IT HAS been celebrated in churches for more than 350 years; but
a court has now ruled that attendance at a Book of Common Prayer
(BCP) service of holy communion "could not be regarded as an
established custom and practice" of the Church of England.
The ruling came in unsuccessful challenges to the First Tier and
Upper Tier Tribunals against a decision by Jobcentre staff to stop
unemployed benefit to a theology student.
His error was to go to a eucharist in Chester Cathedral instead
of attending an interview with officials from Jobcentre Plus.
Graham Hodson, a former communications supervisor with Cheshire
Police, claimed Jobseeker's Allowance on 23 August 2012 after his
student-related job at the University of Chester came to an end. A
month later he was given two days' notice through "a written
instruction requiring him to attend an interview with a personal
adviser". He asked the official to rearrange it for half-an-hour
later so that he could attend the cathedral's weekly BCP service of
The request was refused. Mr Hodson went to the service anyway.
As a result, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) withdrew
his unemployment benefit, saying that, under the regulations, a
person who does not attend an interview with an adviser "is to be
regarded as not having made a claim for a specific benefit" unless
he can show "good cause for his failure to take part in the
The regulations say that a good cause includes "that the
established customs and practices of the religion to which the
person belongs prevented him attending on that day or at that
The First Tier Tribunal (FTT) rejected Mr Hodson's appeal
against the decision to suspend his benefit, saying: "The Tribunal
do not accept that attendance at that particular service could be
regarded as an established custom and practice of the religion to
which the appellant belonged.
"Mr Hodson's [sic] attended services of Holy Communion
several times throughout the week but attendance on Thursday was a
preference rather [than] an established practice or custom."
The decision was upheld on appeal to the Upper Tier Tribunal.
Judge Mark Hemingway said that "The appellant appears to suggest,
in effect, that the FTT erred in failing to appreciate that the
particular service he wished to attend was of special and
The judge ruled that, because Mr Hodson had said that "he would
make other arrangements to attend communion" if he had been offered
a full-time job, "it was open to the FTT to decide, as it did, that
he would have been able to attend a similar Holy Communion service
on a different day.
"Thus, it was open to it to conclude that the established
customs and practices of his religion did not prevent him from
attending an interview on that particular day."
Mr Hodson, who was not legally represented, described the
decision as "absolutely ludicrous".
He said: "At the end of the day, there would have been no
business impediment for the Jobcentre to allow me to have a
different interview for me to go ahead and worship at a BCP
"It is wrong that, even in this very secular UK that we are
living in, these things should be ill-afforded to people who are
expressing their faith and, in my case, discerning a calling for
ministry. I don't think it would have been a big deal for me to
have gone to a 30-minute communion service on a day when they could
have quite reasonably rescheduled my personal adviser
The vice-president of the Prayer Book Society, the Labour MP
Frank Field, a campaigner on benefit reform and poverty issues,
said: "This decision beggars belief. It seems that common sense and
discretion are found wanting in a growing minority of sanctions
The DWP on Wednesday defended its position: "It is important
that people approach looking for a job as a full-time job in
itself, and we will always take religious practices into account
when people are claiming Jobseeker's Allowance.
"If a jobseeker isn't going to be able to attend an interview at
the Jobcentre, it is important they discuss it with - and get
agreement from - their adviser beforehand."