Clergy Housing Policy
Within the Diocese of Chester it is the overall aim to provide each incumbent with a suitable house which is comfortable, appropriate, economical and fit for its purpose, both as a place of work and as a home for a family. The extent to which this aim can be achieved in any particular set of circumstances depends on a wide range of factors, including the availability of finance. There are 227 parsonage houses within Chester Diocese and the Surveyors Department at Church House in Chester is responsible for the day-to-day management of these houses. Under the Repair of Benefice Buildings Measure 1972, Chester Diocesan Board of Finance is designated as the Parsonages Board for the Diocese of Chester. The functions of the Board are delegated to the Houses & Glebe Sub-Committee (H&GSC) which meets monthly (except August) and comprises:
- The Archdeacon of Chester (Chair)
- The Archdeacon of Macclesfield
- The Diocesan Secretary
- The Diocesan Surveyor
The aim of the Surveyors Department is to provide clergy and their families with accommodation and to assist them with the management of their homes. This aim is fulfilled by:
- providing suitable homes
- carrying out repairs and maintenance
- working with clergy and PCCs to ensure properties are cared for responsibly
All of the above have to be carried out within the confines of the Housing Budget.
The Housing Guide has been compiled to help occupants of parsonage houses and their families with the management of their home. It explains how our houses are maintained, who is responsible for what, and when. The responsibility for maintaining a property is shared between the Diocese, the occupant and the parish and this guide will help occupants and churchwardens ascertain how these responsibilities are to be met. Repairs and minor improvements are carried out from the annual Housing Budget and it must be appreciated that this fund is limited, meaning it is not always possible to carry out non-essential work. The Housing Budget is funded mainly from parish share across the Diocese and it is the aim of the H&GSC to ensure this money is spent prudently and that all clergy are treated equally when considering requests for work to be carried out.
In order to maintain and improve the current housing, the Surveyors’ Department carries out the following procedures:
Vacancy Inspection This is carried out when a house becomes vacant at the start of a vacancy. As soon as a house becomes vacant, an early inspection is arranged. It should be possible to take a general view prior to the inspection, when notified of a likely vacancy, as to whether replacement is desirable and possible. The inspection is carried out by the Diocesan Surveyor, appropriate Archdeacon and Rural Dean, usually in the presence of the churchwardens. The aim of the site visit is for the Diocesan Surveyor to identify all essential repairs. The Diocesan Surveyor then prepares a Vacancy Report identifying the necessary repairs and improvements, together with details of the likely cost. Where large expenditure may be required, the Report will include full details and proposals for rectification in the most cost effective way, in the form of a prioritised plan. The Report is circulated to the Archdeacon, Rural Dean, Churchwardens and Team Rector (if applicable) for written comment.
Quinquennial Inspection This inspection is carried out at five yearly intervals by the Diocesan Surveyor, by prior arrangement with the occupier, and it helps ascertain the maintenance works required to each individual property to prevent degradation or deterioration to the fabric of the building and its surroundings. A list of planned repairs / maintenance work is produced which is shared with the occupier so any necessary amendments can be made. When a house has been occupied for 10 years, a special quinquennial inspection is carried out which is attended by the appropriate Archdeacon. This is to ensure that the quality of housing does not deteriorate during a long incumbency, leading to more substantial and costly work being carried out when the house eventually becomes vacant.
Interim Repairs These repairs are not usually planned and occur as a result of an unexpected problem arising e.g. slates being blown off a roof in high winds. Any such repairs should be reported to the Surveyors Department as soon as possible so that the extent of the repair required can be established and a contractor can be instructed. Work may require immediate action or be deferred to a later date, such as the next quinquennial inspection. Interim repairs usually fall into one of three categories requiring different levels of response as indicated via the link.
There are four sources of funds for the financing of all work to clergy houses:
- The Housing Budget: the major part of this arises from contributions by PCCs to the parish share. Estimates are prepared and resources allocated from this source for repairs, maintenance and minor improvements of clergy housing.
- The Stipends Capital Account: this is a restricted fund arising from the sale of glebe property and, under normal circumstances, houses purchased from this fund remain glebe property rather than benefice property. The capital may be used for the provision of parochial clergy housing in team parishes.
- The Pastoral Account: this account derives additional capital from the sale of redundant churches and parsonage houses. The capital is available for a wide variety of uses but is subject to considerable demand. It is the usual source of money for significant improvements to parsonage houses, the purchase of extra houses and the provision of bridging finance for benefice property when replacement is required.
- Marshall’s Charity: this charity gives grants for building or purchasing parsonage houses or altering, dividing or modernising parsonage houses.
The house is to be in good order and not left dirty or in urgent need of decoration. All personal possessions are to be removed from the house (including the loft), garden and all outbuildings. The Diocese will not purchase carpets or curtains or reimburse the occupant for any work carried out at his/her own expense. The care of a parsonage house during a vacancy is one of the primary responsibilities of the churchwardens as local sequestrators. The duties with regard to the house are as follows: Before the house becomes vacant
- Contact the Surveyors Department to agree procedures for the house during the vacancy.
- Discuss with the occupant their removal arrangements, and in particular the disposal of any unwanted possessions and the final cleaning of the house, to ensure it is clean and completely empty.
- Inform the Local Council of the vacancy date and request a revised council tax notification/exemption.
- Inform the Surveyors Department of the names of the utility service providers, together with customer reference numbers.
On the day of departure On the day of vacation of the house, ensure the gas and electricity meters are read and that all doors and windows are locked and secure. Please do not lock internal doors and internal keys should be left in place. A set of keys to external doors should be left with one of the Churchwardens.
During the vacancy If a longer than normal vacancy is envisaged, it may be prudent to let the property on a six month assured shorthold tenancy and if this is the case then arrangements will be made by the Surveyors Department. The tenancy agreement is signed by the Churchwardens and Rural Dean as sequestrators. Any rents received will be retained by the Diocese for the housing fund. If the house is let, the wardens should arrange for the Rectory/Vicarage telephone number to be transferred for the period of the vacancy, enabling the telephone number to be retained. Any tenant will then arrange their own telephone number so that any calls relating to the parish reach the correct destination. The outgoing occupant must ensure a final telephone bill is arranged for payment by him/her or the parish. If it is not possible for the house to be let, the Churchwardens need to consider the following:
- has the outgoing minister arranged for meters to be read prior to departure?
- has the former incumbent arranged for the redirection of post and does Church House know the address to which diocesan mailing should be sent (usually one of the Churchwardens or PCC Secretary)?
- has an answerphone message been recorded to redirect callers to the curate, a churchwarden or other appropriate person? (The telephone line must not be disconnected).
- is the house empty of all contents, securely locked and arrangements made for weekly inspections, which is a requirement of the Diocese’s insurance policy?
- has a time switch been left in the house to enable lights to be turned on and off?
- have arrangements been made for basic maintenance of the garden whilst the house is vacant? The Diocese will meet reasonable costs of cutting lawns etc.
- have suitable provisions been made to prevent frost damage during the winter months? If requested, the Diocese will arrange for the draining down of all plumbing and central heating systems. Otherwise, the heating should be kept on at a low level to ensure pipes do not freeze and the Diocese will reimburse reasonable fuel costs.
The vacancy inspection and work A vacancy inspection will be arranged, to be attended by the Diocesan Surveyor, appropriate Archdeacon, Rural Dean and Churchwardens. This inspection provides an opportunity to assess the suitability of the house and determine any repairs or improvements that need to be carried out, together with an estimate of the cost of the proposed work. The Diocesan Surveyor will produce a vacancy report which will be copied to those present at the inspection and invite written comments. Responsibility for decision making at this stage rests with the Houses & Glebe Sub-Committee, unless referral to the Finance & Central Services Committee is required because of any of the following:
- there are unusual, expensive or controversial aspects
- major improvements need to be carried out that require the approval of a budget
- the estimated costs of vacancy work is so high that disposal and/or replacement is considered a better option
Once the vacancy work has been agreed, the Diocesan Surveyor will arrange for appropriate contractors to carry it out. The Surveyor will also arrange for a full clean of the house if work carried out makes it necessary to do so. Once all the work has been completed, it is the responsibility of the parish to carry out any internal decoration arranged with the incoming minister.
When a new incumbent is identified At this stage the new incumbent and his/her spouse is invited to visit the house together with the Diocesan Surveyor and Churchwardens to identify any further minor works needed and to agree the details of internal decoration.
When the new incumbent moves in The Churchwardens should ensure the new incumbent receives all keys to the house, garage and any outbuildings and knows how to operate the intruder alarm and central heating system. The new incumbent should also be made aware of the location of the stopcock and utility meters.
Every effort will be made to ensure the new incumbent’s move in is as straightforward as possible. Please notify the Local Council of the date the Rectory/Vicarage is re-occupied so that the local authority can issue a revised tax bill. Following completion of any on-going works to a parsonage house, the Diocesan Surveyor or Assistant Surveyor will produce an inspection report on the property. The Houses & Glebe Sub-Committee has agreed that the new incumbent will be asked to review the document and, if in agreement, sign it as a true record of the condition of the house. At the time of departure from the house, this document will be reviewed and it is expected the house will be returned in a similar condition to that identified in the inspection report. On the day of occupation the meters should be read and arrangements made for the accounts to be put in the name of the new occupant.
The following list is to act as a guide in understanding how repairs are classified and how long they may be expected to take:-
High Priority - To be completed within 24 hours or where this is not possible, a temporary repair is to be carried out:
- Total loss of electrical power
- Loss of power or lighting circuits
- Water leaking from a pipe, tank or cistern
- Total loss of water supply
- Total loss of central heating and / or hot water during the winter months
- Blocked drain or WC (where there is only one toilet in the house)
- Defective windows or doors that affect the security of the property
- Blocked flue
- Collapsed ceiling or ceiling in a dangerous condition
- Leaking roof
- Fallen trees or branches that may cause a hazard to occupants or the general public
- Inoperative external door locks
Medium Priority - To be completed in 5 working days, where possible:
- Partial loss of lighting or power
- Partial loss of the water supply
- Taps that cannot be turned
- Blocked WC (where there is more than one WC in the house)
- Repairs to security alarm or lighting
- Minor work on internal plumbing
- Slipped or missing roof tiles, leaking gutters
- Broken windows (where there is low risk to security)
- Repairs to fencing and gates (where there is low risk to security)
- Fallen trees where there is no immediate danger
- Minor storm damage
Low Priority - To be completed within one month, where possible:
- Repairs to wall and ceiling plaster
- Repairs to fire surrounds and hearths
- Replacement of defective sanitaryware
- Roof defects and repairs to chimneys
- Cracked glazing
- Defective flooring
- Repairs to garage doors (unless garage out of use because of defect)
- Fencing and gate repairs (other than those classed as medium priority)
- Roof repairs (other than those classed as medium priority)
- Repair or cleaning of rainwater goods
- Joinery repairs
- Repairs to paths / drives