Exclusive Brethren group appeals against Charity Commission's refusal to grant charitable status

Preston Down Trust, part of a religious organisation originating in Plymouth, is taking its case to the charity tribunal

Preston Down meeting hal

This story has been clarified; please see final paragraph

An Exclusive Brethren meeting hall has lodged an appeal with the charity tribunal against the Charity Commission’s refusal to grant it charitable status in a case likely to determine whether other Exclusive Brethren groups meet the public benefit requirement.

The Preston Down Trust, which meets in Torquay, Paignton and Newton Abbott in Devon, was denied charitable status because the commission was not satisfied that it had been established for the advancement of religion for public benefit.

The Exclusive Brethren are distinct from the Open Brethren following a split in the 1840s in the denomination also known at the Plymouth Brethren. Exclusive Brethren avoid contact with those who do not follow their teachings, including other Christians, and do not allow non-members to attend their religious services.

Details posted on the tribunal’s list of cases show that an appeal was registered by trustees of the Preston Down Trust and the Horsforth Gospel Hall Trust, an exclusive Brethren group in Leeds which was granted charitable status in 1988.

A commission spokeswoman said the Horsforth Gospel Hall could be affected by the outcome of the case. "It, along with a small number of Exclusive Brethren organisations, was registered prior to the implementation of the Charities Act 2006 on the basis of the law as it was then understood," she said.

"The 2006 act removed the presumption of public benefit from certain classes of charity including religious charities. The central issue in the appeal will be whether the public benefit requirement is satisfied in relation the exclusive Brethren organisations under the law as it now is."

The spokeswoman said that the regulator "welcomed this opportunity for the law to be clarified in this area as it affects the exclusive Brethren".

She said that the decision to deny charitable status to the Preston Down Trust "took into account the nature of Christian religion embraced by the trust and the means through which this was promoted, including the public access to its services and the potential for its beneficial impact on the wider community". 

Third Sector was unable to reach anybody at the Preston Down Trust or the Horsforth Gospel Hall Trust for comment.

Rod Buckley, a member of Preston Down Trust, said later that it does allow non-members to attend services.

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