By MARIAN CURD
FEAR of the tax-man, ignorance of procedure, and a lack of trained lay helpers are losing the Church in England and Wales thousands of pounds every year. These facts emerge this week from a survey conducted by the CATHOLIC HERALD. They come at a time when hundreds of churches are looking for the first time to the advantages of a "silent.' envelope collection, and newspapers and radio alike are discussing and analysing stewardship in every form.
The basic word, and Tor many the "bogey", is "covenant". While thousands of tax-payers in the country have now undertaken to pay a weekly sum to their church, hundreds of thousands are holding back because of fear that somehow the tax-man will be after them. fear that the organisers will "pry" into their earnings. fear that they will not be able to keep up the seven-year agreements.
With new parishes joining the scheme each week and with most dioceses having at least the beginnings of a scheme, I asked for facts and figures-and the answers to the "fears".
Southwark is the model-and, dare I say itthe envy of the country. Since the scheme started in 1946 the Inland Revenue has refunded more than £500,000. With more than 17.400 covenants signed Southwark is by far and away the most covenant-conscious diocese in the country, Claims made during 1964 will be around £209,000.
In 1943, just before the Education Act, the Government estimated that the Catholic Schools programme for the whole country would cost £91m. by 1953, the Southwark diocese alone had had to budget for El Im., and by 1970 the cost is likely to he £20m. (The Catholic Education Bill for the whole country is at present estimated at some £100m. gross.) The scheme is run frOm a central office with voluntary and local organisers in each parish. But what parishes 32 of them have covenanted for net contributions exceeding £2,000 (10 of them above £3,000 each, and one at more than £6,000).
Saturation point for Southwark'? No, say the organisers, who want even Catholic youth to covenant for as little as Is. a week.
Mgr. Reynolds, parish priest of The Borough, comments : 'In this parish we could get an additional £1,000 or more if we could find one energetic, steady, reliable person to look after the covenants".
Southwark is the main bombshell. But there are others :
The dynamic lay organiser of the Nottingham diocesan scheme. Mr. L. A. Baggaley, tried to start the scheme hack in 1955. Reception ? So bad it was turned down. But it got on its feet, and today Mr. Baggaley-who brings a tittle "puzzled layman" cartoon to his aid. reports that the scheme is now welcomed to such an extent that 4,942 covenants have been signed to date; a tax rebate of £23.500 is expected for 1963-4, taking the nine-year total to over the £100,000 mark.
He aims at 10,000 covenants bringing a total tax rebate of something like £50,000 p.a. Now, 101 out of 117 parishes operate the scheme.
At present he estimates that some £25.000 p.a. is being lost through lack of covenanting.
Mr. Baggaley is an all-out
covenanteer. He is enthusiastic. And that in a diocese is what makes the whole thing tick-as 1 found when I moved on to Salford.
"This is a job lay folk can take up-please make this point," urged Fr. Louis Sharp, in charge of Salford's Diocesan scheme.
All covenant work is slow and means a lot of hard work for someone, he said. Salford, like Southwark, Nottingham and others, employs a lay staff at H.Q. and relies on voluntary parish organisers in the field.
It's a grind, he said. Covenants are only got by personal contact. by door-to-door visitation, by parish organisers. And the organisers, even when they have been found, must be carefully trained.
"People have to be persuaded to covenant for only that part of what they give to the church that is covered by the tax they pay." said Fr. Sharp. Here seemed the clue to those "fears"
There is disaster when folks are asked to covenant for all they give to the Church. or that it won't cost them anything extra in tax.
For this reason, I like the caution and care shown in displaying the figures in the Salford hand books. Plainly they point out that a person who is not paying Standard Rate of tax will have to make up the difference between his highest rate (which may he the 6s. rate) and the Standard Rate of 75. 9d.
And, says their little pink form. wisely and truthfully. -If you already pay between 4d. and 7s. Rd. per week in tax (at the 4s. rate) a covenant of Is. will cost you an extra 5d. per week.
Likewise. if you pay between 7s. Rd. and 30s. 9d. in 'tax per week. at the 6s. rate. then a covenant of Is. will cost you an extra 3d. per week; 2s. will cost you an extra 6d. per week, and 5s. will cost an extra Is. 3d. per week. But if you already pay tax of over 30s. 9d. at the 7s. 9d. rate. then a covenant of 2s. will cost you only 3d. extra per week; 5s. will cost you an extra 8d. per week.
Covenanting is one of those paradoxical acts where the poorer person on a low income pays out in proportion more tax than his better-off colleagues.
Luckiest of all, of course, is the person with some unearned income on hand. He may covenant without paying any further tax at all.
And what has this done for Salford'? The diocese started the scheme in 1960. Today there are around 2,270 signed covenants. In the years 1962/3, £22,200 was regained from the tax collector.
If every parish operated the scheme fully an outside guess by the organisers put the total of tax rebate possible at £100.000 p.a. Al present 50 per cent of the parishes operate the scheme.
In Liverpool, where a slow start was made in 1958, 83 out of 215 parishes now operate the scheme. The pace is being stepped up, thanks to the guidance of a competent lay staff led by a young
(Continued on back page, col. 5.)