Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How the British tax payer is funding Televangelists

The three largest UK based Christian television networks are all funded from donations from viewers and supporters. These are channelled into them through registered charities which the channels have set up for this purpose.

By running as registered charities these organisations receive a number of benefits that amount to taxpayer funding of their operations, which includes evangelism and in some cases campaigning against evolution and environmental concerns like global warming.

The benefits that Christian TV channels receive from the taxpayer through their charitable status include:
  • the ability to reclaim tax on donations given by individuals through Gift Aid.
  • business rates relief for any buildings they are using.
  • exemption from paying corporation tax on their profits (surpluses)

The value of these to the organisations is difficult to determine in full, but Gift Aid alone can amount to a substantial part of their income.

Gift AID is a reclaim of tax from the government on donations made by UK tax payers. I have examined the accounts of three UK based Christian Television networks to try and estimate how much they are earning from Gift Aid. One (UCB) state explicitly in their annual accounts how much they receive in Gift Aid. The others I have estimated.

At least two of these channels (God TV and Revelation & Genesis TV) are not in the mainstream of the Christian religion and speak out against evolution and environmental concerns.


Channel: UCB TV and various radio channels
Charity: UNITED CHRISTIAN BROADCASTERS LIMITED, Registered Charity 299128

A staggering 16.3% of their donated income came from the government through the Gift Aid scheme - a total of £859,000 in state funding.

From their Accounts for year ended 31st December 2007
Total Income £6,819,108
Total income from donations £5 241 108
Total gift aid (according to their annual report @ 16.3% confirmed) £859,000



Channel: GOD TV and GOD TV EUROPE
Charity: THE ANGEL FOUNDATION, Registered Charity 1079501

God TV is not regulated by OFCOM. It operates under a foreign broadcasting licence and is outside OFCOM regulation allowing them to use fundraising techniques which would probably not be permitted if they were under a UK licence.

We do not know how much they are receiving in Gift Aid donations as they do not separate it out in their annual accounts. However, if we conservatively estimate it at 10% then it would mean they received at least £1M per year from the government to fund their operations. The figure could be much higher.


From their Accounts for year ended 31st March 2008

Total Income £12,174,673
Total income from donations £11,166,574
Estimated gift aid @ 10% of donated income £1,116,657
Estimated gift aid @ 15% of donated income £1,674,961



Channel: REVELATION TV and GENESIS TV
Charity: REVELATION FOUNDATION, Registered Charity 1100573

We do not know how much they are receiving in Gift Aid donations as they do not separate it out in their annual accounts. However, if we conservatively estimate it at 10% then it means they are receiving at least £167,000 from the government to fund their operations.

From their Accounts for year ended 31st March 2008

Total Income £1,740,988
Income from Donations £1,677,136
Estimated gift aid @ 10% of donated income £167,713
Estimated gift aid @ 15% of donated income £251,570


Issues this raises

Should taxpayers money be going to fund religious broadcasting organisations whose principal aims are evangelism?

If the government is to continue funding organisations like this, should this not be conditional on them operating under UK broadcast licences so they are regulated by OFCOM? For example, God TV gets money from the UK government but does not have to abide by UK broadcasting restrictions. This means they can use fundraising techniques which would be dubious under UK broadcasting regulations, but still get Gift Aid on those donations from tax payers.


The other side of the coin

It could be claimed that Gift Aid us a reclaim of the tax the donors have paid on their earnings, but the reclaim is at a notional "blended rate" which may be more than the donor has paid in tax. If the money was not given to them by the government then the government could spend it on things that would benefit the wider community.


Changes to charity law in the UK

The Charities Commission has recently published new guidance to charities that they must be able to show "public benefit". Its not clear how they will apply this to existing charities, but it will be interesting to see how religious charities and in particular Christian television stations will be able to prove a public benefit when they have such narrow sectarian aims and objectives. I suspect they will get round it by having very broad aims in their charity memorandum and articles of association, but in reality pass the vast majority of the funds raised straight to the TV channels they are operating.

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