The law on waiving parochial fees

The Revd Tiffer Robinson

In 2013 the Church of England brought in new legislation regarding parochial fees, and it’s probably fair to say that many of us are just catching up with the change!

One significant introduction was the legal right to waive fees for incumbents/priests-in-charge, which had been a grey area before.  I wanted to clarify the rules, as clergy need to be clear where they stand, but it is also important that we communicate this to families and funeral directors.

The relevant bit of guidance for this is on the Church of England website here: https://www.churchofengland.org/more/clergy-resources/national-clergy-hr/life-events-parochial-fees-and-guidance/guide-church#na

These are the key points:

  • The incumbent/priest in charge has a right to waive the DBF fee “in a particular case”…There is not a statutory requirement for the incumbent/priest in charge to consult before waiving the DBF fee, but, if an incumbent/priest in charge or PCC is considering whether to waive or reduce a fee, regard should be had to any guidelines laid down by the diocese…The incumbent/priest in charge also has a right, after consulting the churchwardens of the parish, to waive any fee payable to the PCC “in a particular case”.
  • This means that the final say in whether to waive the fees or not is down to the incumbent/priest in charge, not the churchwardens, nor the archdeacon.  Many dioceses ask that you consult someone before waiving the DBF fee, and obviously it’s wise to do so, but be aware that consultation does not mean permission.  You must, however, consult the churchwardens before waiving the PCC fee, but again, it’s still down to the incumbent/priest-in-charge.  If you aren’t the incumbent/priest-in-charge, then obviously she or he gets the say, and not the curate/reader/administrator.
  • The guidance also says that fees may be waived in cases of financial hardship, not simply because the life event family are members of your church, for example.  Setting such precedents can be deeply problematic.  (Funerals for under 16s have no fees payable at all of course, and should never be charged for)

So why is this important?  Well, it means that no one should ever choose not to be married in church or decline a church-led funeral because of the cost.  We seek to be the Church for the nation, and this enables us to do that for everyone, whatever their financial situation.  It’s not something generally offered by other organisations, for obvious and understandable reasons, even if sometimes they come in a little cheaper than our standard fees.

So what can you do about this now?  Contact your local FDs, and ensure they are aware of how this works, and that you would be open to waiving fees in such situations (whilst being careful not to suggest it’s a blanket policy, but taken on a case by case basis).  They want to keep costs down for such families too, and will welcome the news that such an option is available.

The other thing you can do is mention it is an option with wedding couples, in passing or on one of your forms, so they are aware they could ask if need be.  This has to be done sensitively of course, but in my experience people seem pleased that it’s an option, even if it’s not for them.

A word of warning – every now and then there can be tensions later down the line, if the wedding couple turn up in a horse drawn carriage with 15 bridesmaids and go on to a stately home for the reception.  Or when the funeral collection is in aid of a local nature reserve, when the church has waived the fees.  But that shouldn’t take away from the great opportunity this provides us to serve those who would otherwise be put off by money.