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Judge uses Trollope to explain Durham Cathedral tax ruling

06 January 2017


Literary ruling: an illustration from Framley Parsonage

Literary ruling: an illustration from Framley Parsonage

DURHAM CATHEDRAL has appealed successfully against a VAT ruling.

The Dean and Chapter had challenged a decision by HM Revenue and Customs that VAT it had paid on repairs to Prebends Bridge, over the River Wear, could not be offset against VAT on its café and gift-shop sales.

The specific ownership of the Grade I listed 18th-century crossing that links the southern tip of the cathedral’s precinct to the city of Durham is unknown, but the cathedral has always considered it as its responsibility.

Judge Richard Thomas, sitting at a tribunal in North Shields last month, decided that, in the interests of clarity for the general public, he should explain the meaning of “Prebend”.

In his ruling allowing the cathedral’s appeal, he said: “Readers of this decision wondering who or what a prebend is, and especially those who are familiar with Anthony Trollope’s novel Framley Parsonage, and who therefore know what a ‘prebendary’ is, will find from the Oxford English Dictionary that one meaning of ‘prebend’ is, in fact, ‘prebendary’: minor clergy whose appointment to a cathedral brought with it a benefice known as a prebend, the other meaning of the term.

“We assume that the prebends — prebendaries — used the bridge originally to visit their prebends: income-producing land.”

He went on to add a footnote, quoting from Framley Parsonage: “The Revd Mark Robarts, Rector of Framley in Barsetshire, had a post as prebendary of Barchester Cathedral dangled before his eyes by the scheming Mr Sowerby, who said ‘It is six hundred a year and a house.’”

The judge’s decision means that the cathedral can reclaim more than £4000 spent on the bridge in 2011, and that VAT on future restoration work costing millions of pounds will be reduced.

The cathedral Chapter Clerk, Philip Davies, said: “We are delighted that the cathedral is able to reclaim a proportion of VAT paid on repair work to Prebends Bridge. It forms part of the cathedral estate, and is part of the UNESCO Durham World Heritage Site.

“In due course, a much larger restoration project is required on the bridge. It will be incredibly helpful . . . that the principle of reclaiming a proportion of the VAT has been established. Any way in which costs can be reduced is extremely helpful.”

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