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Out of the question: PCC liabilities

by
16 March 2011

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.

Your answers

Our church organist was dismissed in 2009. I was not then on the PCC that agreed to her dismissal. Her con­tract showed that she was self-employed. She took the church to an employment tribunal, which ruled that she was an employee and was unfairly dismissed. Compensation (£23,500) and legal costs (£12,300) were awarded. The tribunal ruled that the Vicar and the PCC were joint em­ployers, and each must pay half. I was not on the PCC in 2009. I was elected in 2010, and yet I have been told that under charity law I may have to pay a proportion of something that had nothing to do with me. Is this right?

I was in a similar situation four years ago. The level of damages awarded reflected gender discrim­ina­tion. It had all happened a year or two be­fore, and I was warned that I would face a share of the costs, etc., which were specified between Rector and PCC. (Our figures were not so large as the questioner’s, but still significant.)

I got very little help from the Charity Commission, who more or less said that I have should have checked the situation before becom­ing a PCC member.

I asked our family solicitor. He re­assured me that I could reclaim any monies I was liable for from the orig­­inal PCC members. In the end, the Archdeacon told the PCC to write a cheque from general funds, quickly, which we did. By that time, the Rector had gone, but he had to pay his half.

I strongly advise the questioner to get independent legal advice on this very tricky situation. We got no help whatsoever from the diocesan office or the Diocesan Registrar.

James Barnes
Godalming, Surrey

A spokesman for the Archbishops’ Council writes: “Since a PCC is a body corporate, liabilities will gen­erally fall upon that body corporate rather than upon the individual mem­bers of the PCC unless (a) members have voluntarily assumed liability (e.g., by giving a guarantee in respect of contractual liabilities), or (b) breached their fiduciary duties (in which case there may be a claim against them for any loss arising from that breach).

“Charities are generally expected to avoid legal proceedings, where pos­sible, and therefore a PCC that is likely to become embroiled in litiga­tion should seek early legal advice and also consider seeking the agree­ment of the Charity Commis­sion to bring or defend the proceed­ings — since otherwise there is a risk that if costs are awarded against the PCC the members might have to meet them personally.” Editor

Your questions

A spokesman for the Archbishops’ Council writes: “Since a PCC is a body corporate, liabilities will gen­erally fall upon that body corporate rather than upon the individual mem­bers of the PCC unless (a) members have voluntarily assumed liability (e.g., by giving a guarantee in respect of contractual liabilities), or (b) breached their fiduciary duties (in which case there may be a claim against them for any loss arising from that breach).

“Charities are generally expected to avoid legal proceedings, where pos­sible, and therefore a PCC that is likely to become embroiled in litiga­tion should seek early legal advice and also consider seeking the agree­ment of the Charity Commis­sion to bring or defend the proceed­ings — since otherwise there is a risk that if costs are awarded against the PCC the members might have to meet them personally.” Editor

Your questions

Why is the pulpit in some churches on the north side of the chancel steps, and in others on the south? Of course, we all know that the lectern is on the opposite side from where the pulpit is sited.
E. G. F.

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