A PRESENTATION about the review of CHARM (the Church's Housing
Assistance for Retired Clergy) was given on Monday. The
Chairman of the Church of England Pensions Board, Dr
Jonathan Spencer, introduced the presentation. The changes being
unveiled were the first since CHARM was established some 30 years
previously, a scheme that currently cost £12 million a year, and
covered 30 per cent of retiring clergy. The changes aimed to make
CHARM fairer, and to give clergy more control over what happened on
Alan Fletcher, who chairs the housing committee
of the C of E Pensions Board, gave the Synod more details about the
changes to CHARM which were being proposed. The existing scheme
asked clergy 12 months from retirement to find a property they
wanted to live in; the Church then bought it, and rented it back to
the priest at a rate pegged to his or her income, not the
property's value. "Sometimes this process does work well, [but]
generally it creates a significant number of problems," he said.
The new CHARM would instead create a pool of properties across the
country which clergy, up to five years from retirement, could
examine, and choose from, at rents set at around 60 per cent of the
market value. Existing CHARM members would have their current rents
gradually changed over several years to match the new target
Dr Spencer said that about half of the £12-million cost of CHARM
came from rents, and the rest from the Pensions Board and the
Church - those proportions and figures would remain broadly the
Christine McMullen (Derby) asked whether the
principles described in the presentation could be applied to small
numbers of divorced clergy wives in their 80s and 90s who had
accepted value-linked loans when interest rates were high? Some
were still paying rent as they could not afford to buy the place
they were living in.
Justin Brett (Chichester)was concerned about
the move to rents based on the cost of housing as opposed to
income. How could the Board offer choice while pegging its rents
according to the property?
Mrs McMullen was told that that scheme had not been operated by
the Pensions Board, but he would ask the dioceses to draw their
conclusions about her recommendation.
In reply to Justin Brett, Mr Fletcher pointed out that the
present arrangements were "not very satisfactory. We have had a
number of complaints from retired clergy who find their rents are
higher than market rents. We could say 'go and take a property at a
lower rate in the private sector', but we thought that was not very
helpful. So we would challenge the premise that the present system
needs no attention."
The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd
Peter Hancock, requested more information about the maintenance of
The Revd Stephen Trott (Peterborough) sugested
that the Board look at things "more broadly", and consider
negotiations with large financial institutions".
Canon Simon Taylor (Derby)
said that his parents' experience of shared ownership was "less
good". Would there be a continuing consultation of clergy to
monitor the success of CHARM, and were there plans for consulting
those in the shared-ownership scheme?
Dr Spencer, answering Mr Trott, said that the Pensions Board was
concerned with provision of housing to clergy nearing retirement
who had not got a foothold on the housing market; so the question
was outside his scope. He said that the number using CHARM was much
higher than those using the shared- equity scheme.
Mr Fletcher said that retaining the quality of the properties
was a key objective. Establishing a pool of properties rather than
constantly buying and selling would help keep them in a good state
Answering Dr Taylor, Mr Spencer said that there would be
consultation through the bedding-in period of the new scheme.
Canon Elizabeth Renshaw (Chester) asked whether
the Church's close relationship with Williams & Glyn's bank
(which the Commissioners have a stake in) could lead to their
offering better rates for loans than Santander.
The Revd Stephen Coles (London) asked for more
detail on how the target rents would be calculated. Even subsidised
rents would be unaffordable for some clergy in some very expensive
The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David
Walker, asked whether there would still be any available property
in the CHARM pool by the time his generation of clergy retired.
Mr Fletcher said that the loan facility from Santander was
"terrific", and much better than anything available from RBS, the
parent bank of Williams & Glyn's. How the target rents were
calculated was a complex question, he said, but it was based on the
property value in 1999, and then increased with RPI inflation and
some other factors.
Dr Spencer admitted that in some "hotspots" no property could be
bought and added to the pool because it was too expensive; for
instance, in London. That was already the case for the old CHARM
scheme. The Pensions Board would make sure they did not exhaust
their capacity when deciding how many new tenants to accept each
year, ensuring that CHARM would continue to be available to at
least some retiring clergy for the long term.
Mary Nagel (Chichester)said that many people in
the south-east were "worried" that the cap would prevent their
living in the region.
Ian Fletcher (West Yorkshire & the Dales)
said some widows would want to move to another part of the country,
which could be more difficult under the target-rent scheme.
Dr Spencersuggested that there was a trade-off between the cap
and the number of properties that were affordable. The Board
already owned properties in the south-east
When a partner or spouse died, the Board facilitated the move of
the survivor. The change was that, when clergy were approaching
retirement, they would talk to him or her, and if necessary the
spouse, "about the whole range of possibilities". angements for
Target rents were "not a market rent, but a social housing