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Church of England Pensions Board: More clergy to need help with retirement housing

04 July 2024

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MORE clergy may need help with retirement housing than previously forecast, the Pensions Board has concluded, after a new survey found that 69 per cent of respondents believed it unlikely that they would own a property on retirement.

The results of the survey, which gathered almost 1300 replies from stipendiary clergy, appears in a report on the response to the Board’s consultation on options for clergy retirement housing (News, 17 November 2023). The consultation, “Enabling Choice”, was launched after the Board warned that the current provision — the CHARM scheme that enables clergy to rent a property from the Board — required “a huge and increasing investment from the Church, and it is hard to imagine how this can continue as it is”.

Enabling home ownership during ministry will be among the “essential” elements of any future offering, the Board has suggested, in addition to encouraging clergy to plan ahead and save.

The most significant finding of the survey, which was conducted in January, is that “more clergy may need help with retirement housing than previously forecast.”. In total, 23 per cent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that they would be relying on the Church to provide housing for them on retirement. The current proportion seeking help from the Board is 17 per cent, which the Board has already described as “unprecedented” (News, 31 January).

The report records that 56 per cent of clergy in ministry today own a property — down from 60 per cent in a 2021 survey, which may be, the Board suggests, “the first sign of a downwards trend in property ownership, driven by challenges of property price growth for younger generations, although it could be due to differences in respondents”.

Among the 1300 survey respondents — of whom 58 per cent were over 56 — 22 per cent considered it “unlikely” that they would own a property on retirement, and 47 per cent considered if “highly unlikely”.

Of those that did not currently own a home, 72 per cent said that they would be likely to make use of an offer from the Church of financial support towards home ownership; of those aged 26 to 35, this rose to 86 per cent.

Both home ownership and savings levels are higher among those closer to retirement. One third (34 per cent) of those over 55 years of age who shared their savings details had more than £50,000 in savings. But the survey also highlighted that about one in ten of those with less than two years until retirement had not yet taken “basic steps” to prepare for retirement, including looking at information on their pension.

The results add further evidence to concern about financial well-being among the clergy. When asked about their finances, 35 per cent of respondents said that they were “just getting by”, while a further 20 per cent said that they had been finding it difficult to manage in recent months. About one third (30 per cent) were relying on the stipend as their main source of income. More than one third of clergy had less than £10,000 in savings, and more than 50 per cent had less than £30,000.

The survey was conducted in addition to collating responses to the “Enabling Choice” paper, which totalled more than 850, of whom 77 per cent were stipendiary clergy.

The Board describes feedback as “overwhelmingly positive”, deducing from it “real appetite amongst clergy for more choice around their future retirement housing plans, with lots of interest in ideas to help support financial plans, enable home ownership, and encourage a regular rhythm of quality conversations across ministry”. In total, 87 per cent of respondents supported enabling more choice for clergy around retirement housing.

Among the concerns expressed were “that any new choices must be adequately resourced and genuinely affordable to clergy”, and that support must be “personalised and ideally in person”. The Board writes of “a particular concern that where the stipend is the main source of income, clergy would struggle to save towards a home of their own”.

Almost all respondents — 94 per cent — agreed that there would continue to be a need for the Church to provide its own retirement housing option to some retiring clergy, and the report offers reassurance that the Board sees this as “an essential part of the future”. But it reiterates that “directly provided housing is costly for the Church, and meeting the demand from future retirees will require substantial additional funding”.

Concern was expressed about the impact of changes on those nearing retirement. More than 60 per cent of respondents felt that five to ten years was an appropriate transition period for any changes to be implemented.

The Board plans to provide further information about future provision later this year.

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