No serious regulatory issues at Plymouth Brethren charities, commission concludes

But the Charity Commission says it has provided advice in areas such as collections from congregations

Plymouth Brethren meeting
Plymouth Brethren meeting

The Charity Commission has not identified any serious regulatory issues relating to charities set up as part of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, a new report from the regulator says.

In a case report based on monitoring work of a sample of 24 of the more than 100 gospel hall trusts registered as charities in recent years, the commission says it has seen enough evidence to suggest there is sufficient engagement with the wider community to demonstrate public benefit.

The Charity Commission had been in a dispute with the Plymouth Brethren since February 2009, when the Preston Down Trust, a Devon-based Plymouth Brethren congregation, applied for charitable status.

The commission rejected the initial application from the trust in June 2012 because the regulator was not satisfied that the trust had been established for the advancement of religion for public benefit. The regulator cited at the time the Plymouth Brethren's doctrine of separation from the rest of society as one reason it did not accept the application. 

The charity appealed to the charity tribunal in July 2012, but the case was later dropped and the brethren’s charitable status was accepted by the commission in 2014.

At the time, the Preston Down Trust agreed to amend its trust documents by entering into a deed of variation, which sets out the church’s core religious doctrines and practices in a way that is binding on trustees. The commission agreed that after 12 months it would review the charity’s compliance with the deed of variation.

In its latest report, the commission says its monitoring work included speaking to people concerned at the treatment of former members of the brethren, and says it accepts that trustees of the gospel hall trusts are not responsible for the behaviour of individual members.

But the commission’s report says it expects trustees at the charities to ensure their deeds of variation are readily available to members and to have regular discussions with members about the deeds’ provisions.

The commission also provided regulatory advice about the trusts’ collections from its congregation to ensure the charities have sufficient control over their charitable income.

Michelle Russell, director of investigations, monitoring and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: "In this case, our review is able to provide public reassurance that the trustees of gospel hall trusts are taking steps to embed the principles of the deed of variation in the running of their charities. We have provided regulatory guidance to some individual trusts and expect them to follow that advice consistently."

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