The church rate was a tax formerly levied in each parish in England and Ireland for the benefit of the parish church. The rates were used to meet the costs of carrying on divine service, repairing the fabric of the church and paying the salaries of the connected officials.
Except for a brief period during the Commonwealth of England in the 17th century, the raising of Church Rates has never been confirmed by statute. It was always a matter of 'Common Law'. The compulsory levying of the church rate was abolished by statute in 1868; however, it remains voluntary in many parishes.
Chancel repair liability in England however remains enforceable by law.
The church rates were set by the churchwardens together with the parishioners, who were duly assembled after proper notice had been posted in the church vestry or the church. The rates thus set were recoverable in the ecclesiastical court, or, if the arrears did not exceed £10 and no questions were raised as to the legal liability, before two justices of the peace.
Any payment made out of the rate which was not strictly recognized by law destroyed its validity.
The church rate was a personal charge imposed on the occupier of land or of a house in the parish, and, though it was compulsory, much difficulty was found in effectually applying the compulsion. This was especially so in the case of Nonconformists, who had conscientious objections to supporting the Established Church; in Ireland, where the population was mostly Roman Catholic, the grievance was specially felt and resented.
The objections of the Nonconformists were not only on principle. The Church of England received financial support from Parliament, while Nonconformist congregations were entirely dependent on voluntary contributions. They did not want to have to support another parish as well as their own.
Enforcement of the rate was not uniform across the country. Resolutions were passed protesting against the rate, and societies to abolish the rate were formed all over the country. In 1836 at a public meeting in London, a central committee, the Church Rate Abolition Society, was formed to co-ordinate the efforts of local abolitionist Societies.
In 1837, Parliament made two concessions to the Nonconformists: a more acceptable marriage ceremony, and the civil registration of births, deaths and marriages. However, the parish rate remained compulsory until 1868. The Whig leader in the House of Commons, Lord John Russell, supported the rate but in 1856 The Times called the government's attention to what the editor believed was a civil war raging throughout the country on the church rate question.
In 1868, the Compulsory Church Rate Abolition Act was passed. This Act made church rates no longer compulsory on the person rated, but merely voluntary, with those who were not willing to pay the rate being excluded from inquiring into, objecting to or voting in respect of their expenditure.
- GENUKI. "Genuki: Church Rate Lists, Devon". www.genuki.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-02-21.
- "Details of Law updates". www.kellyand.co.uk. Retrieved 2018-02-21.
- J. P. Ellens: Lord John Russell and the Church Rate Conflict: The Struggle for a Broad Church, 1834-1868; (1987) The Journal of British Studies, Vol 2. pp 232-257.
- "Compulsory Church Rate Abolition Act 1868". www.legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2018-02-21.
- "Parochial Church Councils(Powers) Measure 1956 - 1956 CHAPTER 3 4 and 5 Eliz 2" (PDF). The National Archives. 5 July 1956. Retrieved 30 May 2012.
- User, Super. "Church Rate". www.stbotolphs.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-02-21.
- "Raising a Voluntary Church Rate". Hampstead: The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead. Retrieved 30 May 2012.
In 1986 (Hampstead's Millennium year) our church raised a voluntary rate towards the appeal for redecorating the interior of our Georgian building. The response was so good and the feedback so positive that we have continued to raise this rate every year since. We do, however, only make the appeal for the benefit of the maintenance of the building. It has never been suggested that money so raised, from people of other faiths and none, should be used for the running costs of the Parish.