Five Plymouth Brethren meeting halls granted charitable status

Charity Commission agrees to put Gospel Hall Trusts in Bridgefoot, Coventry, Heathwood, Loughborough and Sussex Vale on the register of charities

Members of a Brethren congregation
Members of a Brethren congregation

The Charity Commission has granted charitable status to five meeting halls of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, having approved the Preston Down Trust congregation in January.

Gospel Hall Trusts in Bridgefoot, Coventry, Heathwood, Loughborough and Sussex Vale were entered on the commission’s register of charities on Wednesday.

All five have charitable objects that are identical – save for two pairs of inverted commas – to those of the Devon-based PDT, which adheres to a doctrine of separation.

The PDT was awarded charitable status in January in a decision acknowledged by the commission as a test case for other PBCC halls. The church welcomed it at the time as a sign that other halls could get charitable status.

The long legal battle over the PDT registration – it had initially applied in February 2009 – resulted in it agreeing to changes in its governing documents that affected how it dealt with disciplinary matters, non-members and other issues.

In common with the PDT, all five of the new charities made changes to their governing documents, which in all cases are more than 20 years old, shortly before registration.

In the document outlining the commission’s decision, the regulator noted allegations of harsh disciplinary practices for minor transgressions and the ostracising of former members. The commission said the PBCC acknowledged "past mistakes in relation to its disciplinary practices".

The PBCC has 95 gospel halls and churches in the UK. Some, including the Horsforth Gospel Hall Trust, had charity status before the Charities Act 2006, which removed the assumption of public benefit for religious organisations, thus making it more difficult for organisations such as PBCC halls to become charities.

A spokesman for the PBCC did not respond to Third Sector’s request for comment by press deadlines.

Benjamin James, a partner at the law firm McCarthy Denning, said: "I think that once the Preston Down Trust decision was made, it opened it up for the other gospel halls to make applications. As long as they follow the Preston Down principles, I think the commission would have a great deal of difficulty turning them down – but of course the question is whether they actually are following them in practice."

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