Places of Worship Registration Act 1855
|Long title||An Act to amend the Law concerning the certifying and registering of Places of Religious Worship in England.|
|Citation||18 & 19 Vict c 81|
|Territorial extent||England and Wales|
|Royal assent||30 July 1855|
Status: Current legislation
|Text of statute as originally enacted|
|Revised text of statute as amended|
The Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which governs the registration and legal recognition of places of worship. It applies only in England and Wales, and does not cover the Church of England (that country's Established Church): it is exempt from the Act's requirements. Nor does it affect the Church in Wales, which remains part of the Anglican Communion although it is no longer the Established Church in Wales. Registration is not compulsory, but it gives certain financial advantages and is also required before a place of worship can be registered as a venue for marriages.
Under the terms of the Act, buildings, rooms or other premises can be registered as meeting places for religious worship upon payment of a fee; a record of their registration is then kept by the General Register Office for England and Wales, and the place of worship is assigned a "Worship Number". Registration is not mandatory, but an unregistered place of worship cannot be used for the solemnisation of marriages. There are also financial advantages: registered places of worship do not have to subject their funds to inspection, under the terms of the Charitable Trusts Act 1853, and Council Tax is not levied on their premises. This exemption has applied since 1955. Since the passing of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, places of worship have not had to pay business rates; registration under the terms of the 1855 Act, while apparently not essential to gain exemption, "is an additional piece of evidence that the property is actively used as a place of worship".
"Any person who is able to represent the congregation" of the place of worship—for example, a pastor, minister or trustee—must fill in a form published by the Home Office, Certifying a Place of Meeting for Religious Worship (Form 76), and send it to the Superintendent General of the General Register Office or a local Superintendent Registrar. A fee of £28.00 is payable. Details required on the form include the name, address and physical layout of the building or rooms, the Christian denomination or other faith group to which it belongs, an overview of the services that will take place, and details of the applicant. There is great flexibility in relation to the naming of the faith group for which the building is being registered: for example, the Register contains entries for "Quaker", "Quakers", "Friends" and "Religious Society of Friends", all of which refer to the Quaker denomination. Furthermore, some faith groups do not have a name, or specifically reject the concept of denominational names. They are allowed to use the descriptions "Christians not otherwise designated" or "[a congregation or assembly of persons] who object to be designated by any distinctive religious appellation" respectively. As of 2010 there were more than 1,500 places of worship registered to "Christians not otherwise designated", representing more than 5% of the national total.[note 1]
If a registered place of worship is demolished and rebuilt on a different site, it must be re-registered under its new identity and assigned a new Worship Number, but more minor structural alterations do not affect the registration. Changes of name must also be notified to the Superintendent General. A place of worship which falls out of use should be de-registered by submitting another form, Notice of Disuse of a Certified Place of Meeting for Religious Worship (Form 77), to the Superintendent General. Government advice states that this is a legal requirement, but research indicates that in practice not all disused places of worship are de-registered. Details of de-registered places of worship are recorded in The London Gazette.[note 2]
The Toleration Act 1688 granted most Protestant Nonconformist denominations freedom to worship in public buildings or rooms that were registered for this purpose. Registration was done at a local level by a Clerk of the Peace or the local bishop. The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1791 extended this freedom, and the obligation to register, to the Catholic Church. The Places of Religious Worship Certifying Act 1852 superseded these Acts and gave the General Register Office the responsibility for maintaining the record of registered places of worship, but registration remained compulsory. The Act of 1855 made it optional, but for a building to be used for marriages it had to be registered for worship first (or at the same time).
The Act stipulated that a list of all registered places of worship be published in 1856, "and also at such subsequent Periods as One of Her Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State shall from Time to Time in that Behalf order or direct". In practice, neither full details of all registered places of worship nor extracts from the list have routinely been published by the General Register Office, but the full list was published online in 2010 in response to a Freedom of Information Request. It lists all places of worship registered under the terms of the Act (excluding those subsequently deregistered), and gives their local government district, Worship Number (their unique reference number), name, address and the denomination to which they belong.
A list of all places of worship has been published on the gov.uk website on 17 Mar 2015, and subsequently updated. This includes a list of 29,607 records, with addresses and whether they are registered for the solemnisation of marriages (opposite and single sex).
The fee for the registration of a place of worship has been revised upwards on many occasions. When the Act was passed, registration cost 2s.6d. (equivalent to £10.53 in 2015). The most recent piece of legislation setting the fee at £28.00 was The Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Fees) Order 2002, which came into effect from 1 April 2003.
- 1,517 out of 29,372. A further 53 places of worship were registered with the "... who object to be designated ..." description.
- A standard form of wording is used to record de-registrations, as in this example from 1987: "The Registrar General, being satisfied that the Elim Church, 9 Hylton Road, Petersfield in the registration district of Petersfield in the non-metropolitan county of Hampshire and the Meeting Room, Brandreth Lane, Renders Corner, Plymouth in the registration district of Plymouth in the non-metropolitan county of Devon have wholly ceased to be used as places of worship by the congregations on whose behalf they were certified in accordance with the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 has cancelled the record of their certifications."
- The citation of this Act by this short title was authorised by section 1 of, and Schedule 1 to, the Short Titles Act 1896. Due to the repeal of those provisions, it is now authorised by section 19(2) of the Interpretation Act 1978.
- "Places of Worship Registration Act 1855". The National Archives. 2012 . Archived from the original on 20 January 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
- McAndrew, Siobhan (23 March 2011). "Places of Worship in England and Wales, 1999–2009". British Religion in Numbers. University of Manchester. Archived from the original on 20 January 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
- "Provincial Directory: The Church in Wales". Anglican Communion Office. 2012. Archived from the original on 20 January 2013. Retrieved 11 September 2012.
- "How to certify a building for Religious Worship and register for the Solemnisation of Marriages". Home Office Identity and Passport Service. October 2011. Archived from the original on 24 January 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
- "Series reference RG 70: General Register Office and successors: Places of Religious Worship Certifying Act 1852 and Places of Worship Registration Act 1855: Certificates". The National Archives. 2012. Archived from the original on 20 January 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
- "Frequently asked questions by Trustees or members of the governing body regarding registered buildings". Home Office Identity and Passport Service. November 2011. Archived from the original on 24 January 2013. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
- The London Gazette: . 19 February 1987. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
- "Places of Worship Registration Act 1855: Original (as enacted)". The National Archives. 2012 . Archived from the original on 20 January 2013. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
- "Places recorded by the Registrar General under the provisions of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855" (PDF). Freedom of Information Act 2000 request 14278. General Register Office. April 2010. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
- UK Consumer Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Gregory Clark (2016), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)", MeasuringWorth.com.
- "The Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Fees) Order 2002". The National Archives. 2012 . Archived from the original on 20 January 2013. Retrieved 21 August 2012.