Church VAT plan sparks outrage

By Ian Dipple 11/05 Updated: 16/05 16:14

TAX changes which will see churches have to pay VAT on improvement work will penalise the community, a Redditch vicar has warned.

Rev Jo Musson, of The Bridge Church in Headless Cross, is now urging residents to sign an online petition against Chancellor George Osborne’s plan to introduce VAT at 20 per cent on alterations to listed buildings, instead of the zero rate currently charged, from October.

Plans are in the pipeline to install accessible toilets, a kitchen to replace the current outdoor facilities and improve the Evesham Road building for concerts and community events.

But with the move adding up to another £20,000 to the cost of the work, it will severely delay the project and place a question mark over its future as the additional funds will have to be met by volunteer fund-raising and donations.

Rev Musson told the Standard as a charity they were trying to do their bit for the ‘Big Society’ - a reference to the Prime Minister’s flagship policy - by offering a place for the community to use but the proposals would have a big impact.

“In trying to close tax loopholes for the wealthy and those who own listed buildings the Chancellor is penalising volunteers all over the country who are simply trying to make 19th century buildings fit for the 21st century local community use.

“These tax changes will indirectly affect groups like The Redditch Quilters, the photographic society, Age Concern, the baby and toddler group and the expressive arts group, who already use the premises,” she said.

Canon David Rogers, rector of the Holy Trinity Parish which covers churches in Beoley, Webheath and Tardebigge, added in a worst case scenario it could make improvement work unaffordable and for health and safety reasons force parts of or whole churches to be closed.

“Building costs generally are higher for listed buildings because of the experienced labour needed and the type of improvements required so anything that adds to what is already a major burden is undesirable and is only going to make life tougher for congregations,” he said.

The Bishop of Worcester Dr John Inge said the Government had failed to foresee the consequences of the controversial move.

“A very large proportion of the alterations to church buildings are concerned with making them viable for use by the wider community by installing meeting rooms, lavatories and kitchens.

“This is the ‘Big Society’ in action. I am quite sure the imposition of 20 per cent VAT will have a detrimental impact on this work across the diocese of Worcester.”

A spokeswoman for the Treasury said the Government was taking steps to correct anomalies in how VAT was applied to other repairs and maintenance.

“We are committed to ensuring listed places of worship are not adversely affected by the budget proposal and we are actively exploring options with the church authorities.”

Residents are being urged to write to Redditch MP Karen Lumley to express their concern as well as visit http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/32229 to sign the online petition.

An open meeting is being held at the Memorial Hall in Headless Cross on Wednesday (May 16) at 7.30pm to allow residents to give their views on community provision in the area and offers of help towards the planned building project would also be welcomed.

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