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Housing Justice commissions ‘first-step’ legal guide for PCCs planning to dispose of church land

31 March 2023

Guide navigates church and charity law to help PCCs to provide affordable housing

Housing Justice

A former Methodist church in Keswick, Lake District, which was sold and transformed into affordable housing (News, 11 February 2022)

A former Methodist church in Keswick, Lake District, which was sold and transformed into affordable housing (News, 11 February 2022)

THE Christian charity Housing Justice has produced a legal guide for PCCs that plan to dispose of disused church land assets to provide affordable housing in the community.

After a tender process, Housing Justice commissioned Wrigleys Solicitors to create the guide, which is described as a “first-step” for PCCs and other charitable bodies which are interested in alleviating homelessness and housing need through the sale, lease, or transfer of land. This might be former vicarages, glebe land, churchyards, church property, or land held by the Church Commissioners.

The 19-page document includes “jargon busters” to help PCCs to understand legal and other terms and processes, as well as steps to navigate both charity and church law to find the “best terms” of a disposal. The Faith in Affordable Housing (FiAH) team at Housing Justice is available to discuss queries and to help churches find appropriate partners, such as architects and housing associations.

The project manager for Housing Justice’s FiAH, the Revd Jeremy Fraser, said that the team was “regularly being met with the belief that trustees must take the highest financial offer in order to achieve ‘best value’, but this may not always be the case. There is an emerging consensus within the Church that ‘best value’ may have a broader context and could include the mission and delivery of the charitable objects of the PCC and how these will be furthered in perpetuity — such as by selling land for the creation of truly affordable homes. This guide will help trustees understand their legal obligations when disposing of land for affordable housing.”

Last year, it was announced that a Church of England housing association was being set up to provide social housing on church-owned land around the dioceses (News, 27 May 2022). This was the result of the report from the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Coming Home, which described as “a national scandal” the fact that eight million people in England live in overcrowded, unaffordable, or unsuitable homes (News, 26 February 2021).

Mr Fraser said: “The Archbishop’s report . . . calls for churches to respond to the housing crisis as part of their Christian mission, but our experience of talking to churches has shown that they often feel overwhelmed by the red tape involved.”

The C of E housing association, now known as the Church Housing Foundation, was established in October, and is supporting the new guide. In a foreword, the Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, who is also the lead bishop for housing, advises readers: “Firstly, don’t be daunted by these challenges — they need to be worked through. You must discharge your legal responsibilities, especially if you are a trustee or in a similar role, yet in most cases there will be a way to make things work out.

“Secondly, seek your own specific legal advice, and listen to it . . . but don’t give up if at first the obstacles look insurmountable. Don’t change your mind about whether you should do something about housing need. Instead, ask how you can achieve what is right and good within the broad legal setting relevant to your circumstances.”

The guide was funded by the diocese of Gloucester. A note at the end of the document states: “This guide does not constitute specific legal advice but explains the general law as at October 2022. Each PCC or charity should obtain their own independent legal advice on any proposed disposal of land, because individual circumstances may vary and this can affect what you can do legally.”

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