Welcome for extension to VAT ‘concession’ for places of worship

An extension to a VAT tax “concession” until March 2022 has been warmly welcomed by church conservation charities.

There have been growing fears that the 20-year VAT relief under the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme would end on March 31.

The Round Tower Churches Society has also voiced concern because it would have added to the cost of repairs and conservation.

Peter Sheppard, chairman of the Norfolk Churches Trust, said that the one-year extension was welcome news. “This is great news for churches and I know that those facing major repairs will be relieved,” he added.

The Norfolk Churches Trust had contacted Norfolk MPs in December seeking support for the scheme to continue. It had been started by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2001.

Lord Dannatt, who is the trust’s chairman, also told the EDP: “This VAT relief has helped to maintain our precious heritage of churches and for future generations to appreciate. I would urge the Chancellor to help parishes maintain churches and our national heritage,” he added.

Michael Sayer, chairman of the NCT’s grants’ committee, said that it should now enable some major church repair schemes to go ahead. “I think it is fair to say that we would really appreciate more long-term certainty about the scheme but the one-year extension is welcome,” he added.

The LPW grant scheme, which is funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, was worth about £42m in 2020.

The Trust, which gave £102,000 towards repairs of 36 places of worship in 2020, helped 41 churches in 2019 with £171,825 of grants.

Mr Sayer, added: “Repairing the tower of St Mary’s, North Tuddenham, will cost about £461,000. Adding 20pc VAT would add £76,000.”

The NCT has identified 47 churches on its “anxiety” list, which includes about 15 Norfolk churches on Heritage England’s official “at risk” register. It calculates the total repair cost at around £12m – and loss of VAT relief would add £2.4m.

Since 1976, when it was founded, it has raised more than £6.5m to safeguard religious buildings of all denominations across the county.

At St Mary’s, Beachamwell, work is scheduled to be carried out this month and in April, the re-thatching of the south slope will also start.

The official announcement by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport was made just days after the March 2021 edition of The Round Tower went to print.