I don’t know about you but I am getting pretty tired of listening to the Churches in our country constantly bellyaching about welfare cuts, austerity, giving more to the poor and individuals and companies not paying their share of tax.
Would it surprise you to know that Churches in the UK are amongst the richest organisations in the country? Would it also surprise you if I told you that they are among the biggest beneficiaries of tax credits and breaks which the state has to cover?
The Church legally (let’s be clear about this point) avoids paying huge amounts of tax, a bit like high net worth individuals and corporate businesses.
- They enjoy generous tax-free assistance from the government. They often receive large donations from the wealthy members of their flock who have died and of course all such donations are exempt from Inheritance tax. Gift aid, is another tax free benefit that the Churches enjoy from those in their flock who are still living, netting them millions of pounds each year.
- They feel the benefits of tax free Endowment funds which all generate significant income and the capital gains on these investments are tax free unlike the rest of us, who have to pay capital gains tax. The Church of England for example has an investment portfolio of £5.5Billion. No tax is paid on this investment portfolio.
- They are VAT exempt from repairs and refurbishment to their buildings, many of which are funded through the National Lottery (hang on, is not gambling and the gains from gambling a sin?)
- Churches are exempt from paying council tax and business rates on their vicarage and church buildings. Most of the senior clergy such as Bishops and Arch Bishops live in opulent palaces or lodges with private cars and chauffeurs.
- In addition, even junior clergy are given grants to educate their children at the best private schools and many enjoy access to private health care, all of which is a tax break for the Church.
So the next time you hear a member of the clergy or the wider Church whinging and bellyaching about poverty, welfare cuts, education or health inequalities, big bad corporate business – just ask them why do they pay so little tax and if they would trade in all their tax breaks and credits and put them towards helping ease austerity and helping the poor – you might be shocked by the answer. But until they start paying their share they have no credibility in a political debate.