Page last updated at 11:45 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Church begins 'rain tax' protest

Part of a DontDrainUs.org poster
The Church's campaign stresses the "unfairness" of the charges

Water firms that charge churches for the rain that falls on their roofs are being targeted by a new Church of England campaign.

Churches and voluntary groups say "rain tax" is set to cost them millions of pounds each year - money they could spend on charitable activities.

They want the government to force water companies to reduce water drainage bills for churches and scout halls.

Water companies say the charges are in line with official advice.

The Church's campaign says new water drainage rules - introduced last year by four water companies - are set to cost it up to 25m over the next year.

It says some smaller churches have seen their water bills rising from 80 to 800, while some cathedrals are being asked to pay 71,000 a year.

Campaigners say churches and charities may cut back on good works or even close down because they cannot afford the increases - of 1,300% in some cases.

New rules

Speaking at the launch of the campaign in Manchester, the Bishop of Middleton, the Rt Revd Mark Davies, said: "The 'rain tax' is a disaster for churches, charities and clubs who will be billed at the same level as factory buildings, department stores and corporate headquarters.

"This will see millions of pounds drained from organisations which are often run by volunteers; which depend on donations and which enrich every community in the country."

He said new rules were needed to introduce "fair" rain water charging by water companies.

Campaigners are highlighting the contrast between water drainage bills - which they say have come down - paid by big businesses like Rolls Royce, and the rising charges paid by churches and other community groups.

Their bills are rising because three water companies - Severn Trent, Yorkshire and Northumbrian - now charge churches the full cost of draining the rain that falls on their roofs.

A fourth firm - United Utilities - last week suspended the charges for a year following protests by the Church and the Scouts Association.

Fair charging

In the past, many churches were exempt, because drainage charges were based on their "rateable value" - often calculated as close to zero.

But now the bills are levied according to the total surface area of roofs and other hard surfaces - such as pavements and car parks.

Campaigners say the new rules mean that churches - which often have large roofs - often find themselves being charged substantially more than shops and other profit-making premises.

Water companies argue that churches and charities need to pay their share of the cost of draining rainwater away into the sewers.

The water watchdog Ofwat - which supports the charges - says charging drainage is an "environmentally responsible" approach and forces organisations to take responsibility for the drainage of their properties.

It says the cost of providing surface water drainage in England and Wales is about 700m each year.



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