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Archive - Friday, 13 April 2012
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Church fears over 'unfair' VAT plans
THE Government is gaining from the misfortune of Oxfordshire churches hit by lead thieves, it was claimed last night.
The Reverend Toby Wright, vicar of St Mary’s Church, Church Green, Witney
Churchgoers across the county, including Prime Minister David Cameron’s Witney constituency, are urging ministers not to impose VAT on alterations to historic buildings.
Chancellor George Osborne said in last month’s Budget that he planned to levy 20 per cent VAT on alterations to listed buildings from October.
Repairs to listed buildings are currently liable to VAT, while alterations are not.
But churchgoers in the county called for a review of the entire VAT system for churches, labelling it “unfair”.
PM David Cameron
The Rev David Randell, vicar of St Mary’s in Overthorpe, near Banbury, struggled to raise money for a new church roof after thieves stole £100,000 of lead last August.
He said: “The Government is gaining from our misfortune.”
Retired Bishop Bill Down, chairman of the £750,000 restoration appeal for the medieval St Mary’s Church in the centre of Witney, has signed a letter to Mr Cameron.
Witney’s team Rector Toby Wright and churchwardens have also put their names to the plea to the PM.
Bishop Bill said: “If we have to pay VAT of £150,000, it could make all the difference between success and failure.”
The letter says church members feel they are being unfairly penalised.
The Bishop added: “It’s not a question of doing something to make the church better. We have to do this work because the floor is so bad.”
Witney parishioners and other Church of England members are being urged to sign an e-petition started by Wakefield Cathedral.
Natalie Merry, of the Oxford Diocese, said: “The Government has made plans to withdraw the zero rating without even consulting those it will affect the most – charities and churches that have already been badly hit by lead theft.
“This change will put them at even greater risk.”
Oxfordshire’s biggest church buildings appeal, the £5.5m project at St Mary the Virgin in Oxford High Street, will escape VAT because contracts were signed before the Budget.
But the vicar, the Rev Brian Mountford, said: “It’s a body blow to churches who struggle as it is to raise enough to look after these extremely important heritage buildings.”
Banbury MP Tony Baldry, who is a church estates commissioner, has written to the Chancellor asking for a rethink.
Treasury spokesman Sarah Gibbs said: “Significant anomalies have developed in the VAT system.
“The Government is taking steps to correct these anomalies, including aligning the alterations of listed buildings to align with the existing VAT treatment of repairs.”
She said churches could apply for grants from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which will add £5m a year to its ‘listed places of worship’ budget.
Mr Cameron, who is currently in the Far East, was unavailable to comment.