Robbie Low looks at the Financial Provisions Measure
IN 1992 the Church of England voted to ordain women to the priesthood. There can be few Anglicans who are unaware of this. In belated anticipation of the difficulties this would cause and to ease the passage of the legislation through Parliament a Financial Provisions Measure was put through. The financial provision was to enable priests (and their dependants) who resigned in conscience a Measure of assistance as they sought to rebuild their lives shorn of stipend, housing and in many cases any prospect of further employment in the one task which they had been trained for and to which they had given their lives.
A considerable number of Anglicans are dimly aware of this arrangement which, in addition to assisting the newly deprived, protected the Church of England from claims of injustice and constructive dismissal. Beyond that there seems to be an astonishing degree of ignorance as to eligibility, application, take-up and terms.
It was, to be frank, an ignorance which I shared. Over the last year, however, I have been on the receiving end of a growing number of enquiries, not loud but persistent, from fellow clergy to write an article outlining the details of this Measure and clear up the apparent confusion over very basic entitlements enshrined in the Measure and, as important, the duration of them. Whether these enquiries imply that a new wave of departures may be imminent is not the subject of this article, though it is abundantly clear from many correspondents that they do not believe the Act of Synod has been honoured.
What is also clear is that many clergy are nervous about contacting the Pensions Board and, therefore, they think, being known to be `considering their position’. The first thing to say is that the Pensions Board, the people who administer this provision, are utterly discreet and totally confidential. You are their customer and investor every bit as much as the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The second thing to note is that what I write here is, necessarily, the generality of the provision. Each case, in its detail, is unique and anyone wishing to make an enquiry as to their personal circumstances will not only find the Pensions Board staff warm and helpful but also a fund of good advice.
I am very grateful to the members of the Pension board who agreed to meet me and answer the questions that have come up through the many individual enquiries.
How many people have enquired about resigning?
How many have actually resigned under the Measure?
As of the beginning of March this year, 413. This figure, of necessity, does not give the whole picture of conscientious resignation. There have been many others who do not qualify under the Measure, some who left immediately upon the 1992 vote and before the Measure came into being and some who did not, on principle, take any compensation.
Some clergy preferred to take early retirement. Are these figures up on pre-1992?
Yes, they are. If 1991 is taken as a normal year, then, to the year 2000, an additional 470 have gone over and above what might have been expected.
Have there been more retirements due to ill health?
Yes. The annual figure for 2000 is almost down to the 1991 level but, at its worst, in mid-decade it was running at 35 per cent above the pre-1992 level.
What is the last date on which you can resign under the measure?
February 21st 2004. People wishing to do this are strongly advised not to leave it this late and they would be sensible to decide on their course of action much earlier. The Pensions Board will take your resignation document, post-dated to your chosen date, and set things in train in good time. This enables you to get their best advice and have your payments (and housing if necessary) already set up. Copies of the requisite documents can be obtained from the Pensions Board.
Who qualifies under the Measure?
Every clerk in holy orders, deaconess or licensed lay worker who was in whole time stipendiary ecclesiastical service within the Province of Canterbury (including the Diocese of Europe) or the Province of York on the relevant date or at any time during the six months preceding that date. On that date the applicant must have served at least five years and not, obviously, have attained retirement age or be in receipt of a pension. Those who thus qualify have ten years from that date to apply, namely, until 21 st February 2004.
They do so by making a declaration that they would not have resigned but for their opposition to the promulgation of the relevant Canon (namely, enabling a woman to be ordained to the office of priest).
What about those forced out who do not qualify?
There is no obligation upon the Pensions
Board and, in practice, little help has been given. Discretionary payments can be made – for example small retraining grants. Genuine cases of hardship can be addressed but only if the applicant makes the declaration (see above) within the ten year period.
What is the basic provision?
Subsequent to resignation an applicant will receive periodical payments for one year at rate of the full National Minimum Stipend (NMS) which is currently £16,520. This will be followed by a year at 3/4 NMS and finally by a year at 2/3 NMS.
If, however, the applicant has attained the age of 50 before resigning, that 2/3 NMS provision will continue until the age of 60 when the applicant may begin to receive pension based on years of service as if he had remained in office until that time. This pension, as with all early retirement pensions, would be reduced for payment prior to age 65. There is also a resettlement grant of 3/10 of NMS.
What if an applicant takes paid employment?
During the first year the payments from the Pensions Board will be reduced by whatever is earned. During subsequent years the applicant can earn the difference between the payments and a full stipend without reducing those payments. Beyond that whatever is earned will reduce Pensions Board payments accordingly.
(Of the original applicants only 106 are still receiving payments. This is because some only received for a maximum of three years and others will have reached 60 and automatically gone over to retirement provision. Some, of course, have found alternative employment.)
What if an applicant takes up unpaid employment, for example, with another Church?
This is not unknown and in no way affects the payments under the Measure.
Does an applicant’s wealth alter his entitlement to compensation?
No. Nor does the wealth of his spouse. It may, however, affect any application for housing (see below).
Is it legally binding or tan General Synod alter it?
Yes, it is. No, they can’t.
Can the present difficulties in the Pension Fund affect these rights?