Ding dong merrily

Christopher Wallworth looks forward to a tax repayment as an occasional bellringer.

It was recently reported that the Revenue is taking an interest in the activities of the bell-ringers in Staffordshire. Church treasurers have been threatened with pay-as-you-earn audits in respect of payments to part-time bellringers organists and others. The chief accountant of the Diocese of Lichfield has called in a tax expert to fight the Revenue’s claims.

Are those claims serious? Let us take bell-ringers, whose only remuneration is 5 pounds or 10 pounds each for every wedding they ring for. Should the church treasurer give them a payslip showing tax and national insurance deducted from each payment? Only if the bellringers are employees of the church. Before the war it was not unusual for ringers to be paid by the church: I know some older ringers who were persuaded to take up the hobby by the lure of 6s. 8d. a quarter. That custom has fallen into disuse and the only money ringers receive now is for weddings. Many ringers throw the money into the collection box in the tower as a donation to the upkeep of the bells.

Bellringing is a hobby — not a job. Although the local vicar can say when the bells can and cannot be rung, he cannot compel any particular ringer to turn up on Sunday morning or for a wedding to ring the bells. In many churches it often happens that the bells are not rung because no ringers are available. Although ringers are usually a member of a band at a particular church they do visit other churches with bells in the neighbourhood. At a Saturday afternoon wedding more than half the ringers may have come from neighbouring churches. Clearly bellringers are not employed under a contract of service by any particular parish church.

That leaves Schedule D as the Revenue’s only line of attack. has the Revenue thought through the consequences of this?

A bellringer might ring for three weddings a year for which he or she will receive a total of (say) 15 pounds. But under Schedule D he can set off expenses wholly and exclusively incurred for the purposes of his profession or trade. First there is the annual subscription to the local bellringers association — the Oxford Diocesan Guild charges 5 pounds per year, which includes insurance against personal injuries sustained whilst ringing. Bellringers need to practise their art: the bells are fixed in the church tower so this involves travelling to the church once a week. Unless they live within walking distance they will probably drive — say five miles each way at 21p per mile for 40 weeks of the year. On the day of the wedding they will drive to the church again — if the church is in a town they may also have to pay to park the car. Then there is the bellringers’ professional journal — The Ringing World which costs about 35 pounds a year.

You will see that we already have a substantial loss, which, depending on his circumstances the bellringer might be able to set against other taxable income. Does the Revenue really want to be inundated with claims for loss relief from self-employed bellringers?

Christopher Wallworth is a clerk to a panel of General Commissioners.

Reprinted from Taxation 15/22 December 1994 in The Ringing World 1995 page 510. HTML version by Roger Bailey June 1999.

Special deal for church helpers

I read with interest Christopher Wallworth’s article entitled ’Ding dong merrily’ in the 15/22 December issue of Taxation.

As the “tax expert” referred to I felt it would be useful to readers of Taxation to be aware of the background to the story and the eventual very satisfactory outcome.

Briefly, the Churches Main Committee issued guidance to its members, with the agreement of the Inland Revenue, that if any “local religious centre” paid any person more that 1 per week for services then pay-as-you-earn procedures must be applied. Fortunately, the Inland Revenue Policy Division recognised the difficulties which could result from the literal interpretation of these instructions as well as the considerable time that could be spent in deciding whether people being paid by churches were employed or self-employed.

After considering the results of a survey carried out by the Committee and a number of its suggestions, a Guide to PAYE Operation for Local Religious Centres was issued by the Inland Revenue. The guide set out the following:

(1) If the local religious centre did not expect to pay anyone 100 or more in a tax year, no action at all is required.

(2) If the centre does expect to pay someone 100 or more and that person has no other job, records need to be kept for three years of (a) name, address and National Insurance number and (b) the amount paid in the tax year.

(3) If the centre does expect to pay someone 100 or more and that person has another job (or it is uncertain whether he or she has another job) then the centre does not need to deduct any tax and should simply write to TIDO(LRC), Ty Glas, Llanishen, Cardiff CF4 5ZG providing details of the person paid as follows:

(a) name and address;
(b) National Insurance number;
(c) amount expected to pay up to 5 April next; and
(d) amount expected to pay in a full year.

I am sure you will appreciate that I was grateful to the Inland Revenue for helping to find a solution to what was felt to be potentially an administrative nightmare for treasurers of local religious centres and the local tax districts.

C G Sharp,
Touche Ross,

Printed in Taxation 16 February 1995. HTML version by David Floyd June 1999. Arrived by search engine? Click here for a comprehensive list of other change-ringing links.