Catholic churches should be able to claim Gift Aid on mass offerings, charity lawyer says

Robert Meakin of Stone King considers making a challenge to HM Revenue & Customs' position that offerings are a transaction, not a donation

Mass offerings: debate over whether they are a gift or transaction
Mass offerings: debate over whether they are a gift or transaction

A senior charity lawyer is planning to make a legal challenge to HM Revenue & Customs over whether Catholic churches can claim Gift Aid on mass offerings.

HMRC’s position is that because these offerings are made in return for prayers for an individual person, they are a transaction rather than a donation and as such are not eligible for Gift Aid.

However, Robert Meakin, a partner at the law firm Stone King and a former Charity Commission lawyer, says churches should be able to claim Gift Aid on the money.

"It is not compulsory to pay for a mass to be said for an individual: therefore, any payment made is a donation, rather than a fee," he said.

Meakin told Third Sector he had chosen to raise the issue because, in his role as a diocesan trustee, he had become aware that there was confusion in the Catholic church about whether mass offerings were eligible for Gift Aid.

"I am 100 per cent certain that Gift Aid can be claimed on these payments, so I will put in a legal challenge if HMRC says it cannot," he said.

Meakin said rough calculations suggested Gift Aid from mass offerings could be worth £1,000 a year for each parish.

He said there were between 50 and 100 parishes in each diocese and 26 diocesan trusts, meaning it could be worth about £1.3m a year to the Catholic church.

An HMRC spokesman said the figure could be considerably higher than this.

The spokesman said it was confident in its position. "If I asked for a mass to be said for my cousin who is doing her A-levels, then that can’t be Gift Aided because I am paying for a particular service," he said.

"No priest will de facto ask for a payment for this mass to be said, but it is understood by both parties that payment is to be made – so this can’t be Gift Aided. It is not a gift – it’s a transaction."

He said HMRC would defend its stance if a legal challenge were made.

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