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by Kirsteen Paterson
24 January 2023
Scottish Government land register

Visitors at St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh

Scottish Government land register "hugely detrimental" to churches

Scottish Government land registry plans will be "hugely detrimental" to churches, it is claimed.

The Church of Scotland claims the new Register of Controlled Interest (RCI) in Land creates "unmanageable administrative burdens" for congregations.

Aimed at increasing transparency, the register includes details of individuals who have significant influence or control over owners or tenants of land.

Maintained by Registers of Scotland, it is designed to create a more sustainable system of land use and empower communities.

However, the Church of Scotland claims it fails to take into account the "unique legal structures" of congregations and the reliance on local volunteers.

It claims the SNP-Green administration has "failed to recognise" the "hugely disproportionate impact" of the legislation on churches despite months of engagement.

The Scottish Episcopal Church, United Reformed Church and others will be similarly affected due to their internal structures and the number of churches, halls, manses and glebes covered by the legislation, it is claimed.

A transitional period has been extended by 12 months and, subject to parliamentary approval, criminal penalties for failure to provide relevant information to the register will not come in until next year.

However Rev Fiona Smith, the Kirk's principal clerk, said that while many churches support the aims of the register, its design "will cause significant difficulty for churches and congregations to comply".

She went on: "It is likely to cost tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal and administrative costs. It will require additional effort and energy from volunteers, which is going to make it harder for us to retain and recruit people. It imposes criminal penalties, for a failure to provide information to the register, on people who will not know that they have this duty.

"Overall it is going to have a hugely detrimental impact on our ability to serve Scotland's communities, and money that could be used for help with sustaining community and congregational life or to support people struggling against poverty will instead have to go on administration and legal advice.

"Our attempts to have the disproportionate impact of this legislation recognised by the Scottish Government have so far fallen on deaf ears."

Bob Christie, chair of trustees at the Synod of Scotland of the United Reformed Church, said: "The Scottish Government claim they value and respect the work of faith groups in contributing to cohesive and connected communities and in providing social care to some of our most vulnerable citizens, but on this issue they are making our lives immeasurably more complicated and costly."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "We have listened to the concerns raised by the Church of Scotland and others in relation to the challenges they face and the impact of Brexit, the pandemic, and the current economic pressures.

"We hope that extending the transitional period by 12 months will ease the burden on those in scope of the RCI by giving them more time to prepare their submissions before the offence provisions take effect. Officials have written to key stakeholders to make them aware of our intention to introduce legislation to provide this extension."

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