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Farewell to freehold. Hail, common tenure

by Ed Thornton

THE centuries-old system of clergy freehold ends on Monday. It will be replaced by common tenure, which seeks to give bishops more control over their clergy, and the clergy better employment protection.

From 31 January, assistant curates, priests-in-charge, team vicars, and residentiary canons in fixed-term posts will transfer automatically to common tenure. A Church of England website, which outlines the changes, states that it will bring “security [and] clarity” to their terms of service.

Clergy who have freehold, in­cluding incumbents, team rectors, deans, archdeacons, and other residentiary canons, will be asked by their bishop if they wish to transfer. They are not obliged to do so, how­ever.

Common tenure will give the clergy new rights, including: the en­titlement to a written statement out­lining the terms of their appoint­ment; one full day off a week; 36 days’ annual leave; and access to a grievance procedure.

Incumbents who decide to switch to common tenure will not see their property rights affected: they will continue to have formal legal ownership of the parsonage house, and possess an absolute veto over its sale. Priests-in-charge will now be given the right to object to the Church Commissioners in the event of a proposed sale.

The property rights under common tenure gained by other office-holders, such as curates and team vicars, include the right to accommodation “reasonably suitable for the purpose”, and the right to have their residence “kept in good repair”.

Other rights include a minimum stipend, a right to appeal for unfair dismissal, and the right to appeal to an employment tribunal.

Common tenure brings new obligations as well as rights. Clerics who sign up will be obliged to participate in ministerial develop­ment review and continuing min­is­terial training, and to undertake a medical examination if their bishop is concerned about their physical or mental health.  

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