The Plymouth Brethren Christian Church has said the Charity Commission’s decision to allow one of its congregations to apply for charitable status paves the way for other Brethren groups in England and Wales to submit applications of their own.
The decision, published yesterday, says the original 2009 application by the Preston Down Trust to become a charity was "a precursor to similar applications to be made in due course… and, as such, was seen as a test case".
A statement released today by the PBCC said: "While we do not necessarily agree with all matters of law or opinion set out in the decision document, we thank the commission for working with us and welcome the result that the decision achieves in enabling PBCC gospel hall trusts to move onto the register of charities and return their focus to the service of God and the wider community."
A spokesman for the church told Third Sector he could not give an indication of when any of the other 90 gospel halls and churches in England and Wales listed on the PBCC’s website would make applications for charitable status. Some, including the Leeds-based Horsforth Gospel Hall Trust, are already on the commission’s register.
The PBCC statement said: "This decision is a great relief to us and we are hugely encouraged and comforted that, after a thorough explanation of our Christian beliefs and practices, which are based on the infallible and eternal Word of God as set out in Holy Scripture, the Charity Commission has agreed that the doctrines and practices of our church advance religion for the public benefit."
A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said that it published its decision on the Preston Down Trust so it could guide other organisations. "It is relevant for other Plymouth Brethren Christian Church meeting halls seeking registration as charities," she said. "Organisations might find it helpful to have regard to the commission’s approach and the legal framework when considering applications for registration as charities from religious institutions."
MPs have also been giving their reactions to the Preston Down Trust decision.
Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow, said he and others had been fighting an 18-month campaign in parliament on behalf of the Brethren. "I’m hugely relieved the Charity Commission has come to this decision," he said.
"It’s a topsy-turvy world we have when Druids are allowed charitable status but the Brethren are not. You have to have equality and I hope this marks a significant shift in the Charity Commission’s thinking away from technocracy and bureaucracy."
But Paul Flynn, the Labour MP for Newport West, said the decision was a "uniform surrender under lobbying done for commercial reasons".
He said it had been a "massive lobbying operation" and that he had been approached by Brethren representatives at his party office on six occasions.
"They run their own mortgage companies and have their own computer firms," he said. "The decision means more to their balance sheets than to the heavenly kingdom."