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Registering a place of worship as a charity

Photo of Lourens Du Plessis Lourens du Plessis
2 min

In our work, it is not uncommon to find that some church trustees are unclear on their legal obligations to register their church as a charity. 

This is not surprising given that, until fairly recent times, Charity Commission officers seemed to share the same confusion.

Which register? Registered with whom?

We have recently published a new Briefing Paper which sets out four different forms of ‘registration’ that a church may have to consider:

  • Registration with the relevant charity regulator
  • Recognition (rather than ‘registration’) as a charity with HM Revenue and Customs
  • Registration of building trusts
  • Registration as a ‘Place of Worship’

Does my church need to register?

We dispel the myth that where a church is a registered place of worship, it does not need to be registered with the Charity Commission. Registration as a place of worship entails registration under the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855. This registration is of the building (only) and enables solemnization of marriages to take place in that building.

Where a building is registered as a place of worship, the trusts over the building do not need to be registered with the Charity Commission as they fall within an exception. However, the funds of the congregation that meet in the building will be subject to the normal charity registration rules in Charities Act 2011 and must register with the Charity Commission if the 2011 Act applies.

The Paper also considers the current but temporary exception from registration with the Commission that churches that are associated with certain defined denominations and church groups can enjoy, where gross income is less than £100,000.

Finally, we explain why registration with the relevant charity regulator (which may be the Charity Commission in England and Wales, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator or the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland) is so important if the church wishes to benefit from the various tax reliefs available to charities. The main available reliefs are listed under each type of tax.

Read the paper: Registration of churches as charities

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Written by

Lourens du Plessis

Lourens leads our teams who guide and strengthen churches and Christian charities with their governance and finances. Our professional services include independent examinations of charities’ accounts, an award-winning payroll bureau, consultancy and governance advisory services and helping charities get registered with the Charity Commission. He joined Stewardship in 2020 and brings with him a wealth of experience in both the charity and commercial sectors. He’s a member of the Charity Community Advisory Group of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, and regularly interacts with regulators in the sector.

Before joining Stewardship he worked for an international church developing governance and financial stewardship for various ministries. Prior to that Lourens had a senior role at a Big Four firm in the City, advising international investment banks. He is a qualified Chartered Accountant and has a postgraduate degree in Theology.

Lourens grew up in South Africa, but has spent the majority of his working life in London.  He is a member of the International Presbyterian Church in Ealing. He is also a trustee of a number of other churches and charities, including a new pregnancy counselling centre, and he’s involved in initiatives to help Christians better integrate their faith and work.

Lourens supports causes which encourage bringing the gospel to people in his neighbourhood and to the ends of the earth, and particularly supporting persecuted Christians around the world.