It is not often that a court case is specifically about legislation affecting church buildings. The recent High Court case “Hope Community Church (Wymondham) v Phelan and Others” is just such a case. Under the little-known Places of Worship (Enfranchisement) Act 1920 churches that hold properties of a lease for 21 years or longer are able to force the landlord to sell the freehold to them. The Act specifically refers to “premises… held upon trust to be used for the purposes of a place of worship” and this has in the past been thought to only apply to churches that are held under a charitable trust. This would exclude churches that are charitable companies or charitable incorporated organisations (CIOs). The recent case has widened the application to charitable companies (and by implication CIOs).
As most new church charities are charitable companies or CIOs, this will give churches opportunities, where they are granted long leases, to purchase the property from their landlord. There are still exemptions, such as where the landlord is a local authority. There are also a number of conditions that need to be met.
If you are a church that thinks this may apply to you, please contact Giles Arnold on 01536 647164 or firstname.lastname@example.org