Charity Commission U-turns over Exclusive Brethren case

The Charity Commission has announced it will allow a Brethren church to register for charitable status, after it turned the group down in 2012.

The Commission previously rejected Preston Down Trust’s (PDT) application for charitable status on grounds that the group did not meet the ‘public benefit’ requirement of The Charities Act 2006.

In its arguments against PDT, the regulator criticised the Trust’s Holy Communion services, which are reserved for members only.

PDT will now be able to register as a charity on the condition that its trust deed, a binding document, reflects clearer “doctrines and practices”.


A spokesman for the group described the decision as a “huge relief”, adding they were “hugely encouraged and comforted” that their practices advance religion for the public’s benefit.

Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, also welcomed the news: “It’s a victory for religious freedom.

“Common sense has been restored and the decision reflects what we knew all along, that the Charity Commission never had the power to direct how a church administers Holy Communion”.


The Charity Commission rejected PDT’s application for charitable status in June 2012 and, in a debate that followed five months later, told the House of Commons that “the evidence in relation to any beneficial impact on the wider public is perhaps marginal and insufficient to satisfy us as to the benefit of the community”.

The decision however drew criticism from many, including Conservative MP, Charlie Elphicke, who accused the Commission of suppressing religion during a select committee hearing on the regulator’s wider role.

Elphicke told the  Plymouth Brethren Christian Church: “you are the little guys being picked on to start off a whole series of other churches who will follow you there”.


The Christian Institute made representations as a third party to the Charity Tribunal, in a bid to protect religious liberty as the case could have set a dangerous precedent for all churches over how Holy Communion is administered.

In a statement released yesterday, the Chairman of the Charity Commission, William Shawcross, said he is “confident that the organisation now qualifies for charitable status”.

As a result of the decision, PDT is set to withdraw its appeal from the Charity Tribunal.

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