Christian group secured tax breaks after "extreme pressure"

Economia, UK/March 17, 2015

By Eric Clayton

The Charity Commission agreed charitable status for a Christian church group after it received thousands of letters from members and hundreds from MPs

In January 2014, the Preston Down Trust, part of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church (PBCC) was awarded charitable status - and the significant tax benefits that come with it - after a long-running legal battle with the regulator.

According to documents, leaked to the Times, this agreement came after a lobby-style campaign described by the group’s Australian leader as “extreme pressure”.

Its charitable tax status has seen the church secure tax reliefs that could run to as much as £13m a year, the Times said.

The group’s leader, Bruce Hales is said to have told members to “go for the jugular, go for the underbelly” after the commission initially refused registration.

The Charity Commission confirmed that it had received an “unprecedented” amount of pressure from those associated with the church and said it received more than 3,000 letters from members and 200 from MPs.

Among the 200 MPs reported to have written to the regulator on the Church’s behalf was Peter Bone, MP for Wellingborough and an ICAEW member. He is said to have assured the sect, “your wish is my command”.

A spokesperson for the Charity Commission denied that the Regulator's u-turn came as a result of pressure. It referred to a “lengthy and robust process” that ensured that the organisation adhered to Commission guidelines before agreeing its status.

The spokesperson said, “This was a highly unusual and sensitive case, which involved strong feelings on both sides as the public record shows. The process we undertook was searching and robust – it took nearly a year – and resulted in the Preston Down Trust, a Plymouth Brethren Meeting hall, acknowledging past mistakes and setting out in a new deed the church’s core religious doctrines and practices.

"As a result, the Preston Down Trust is under our jurisdiction and is currently under review. We will also monitor a sample of the other Brethren Gospel Hall charities that have been registered since.”

PBCC has been approached for comment.

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