Who are Ecclesiastical? And why does it matter?

The majority of Church of England parishes and benefices are insured by Ecclesiastical. Ecclesiastical was originally set up to protect church buildings from fire, but today it deals with all types of insured claims, including legal claims about abuse suffered by victims at the hands of priests and other church officers.

Here, Ecclesiastical like to portray themselves as caring and responsible. They even have a set of “guiding principles” setting out how they will handle civil claims involving allegations of sexual and physical abuse.

But despite their self-portrayal and guiding principles, many victims of church-related abuse speak of the increased trauma they have suffered at the hands of Ecclesiastical and their claims handlers.

It is also worth noting that witnesses from Ecclesiastical had to be recalled to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) when it emerged that they had misled the inquiry.

Who are Ecclesiastical? And who owns them? I’m going to answer those questions in a rather technical – but hopefully brief – look through the documents of Companies House, the UK registrar of companies.

Ecclesiastical is a short-form trading name of Ecclesiastical Insurance Office PLC. It was registered as a company on 3 August 1887 with company number 00024869, under the name Ecclesiastical Buildings Fire Office. It has changed name and structure many times in the intervening years, but the current Ecclesiastical Insurance Office PLC is the same company as that established 137 years ago.

Today, the company has 11 officers. The company secretary is Rachael Jane Hall, and its directors are Rita Bajaj, Francois-Xavier Bernard Boisseau, Denise Patricia Cockrem, Robert David Charles Henderson, Mark Christopher John Hews, Sir Stephen Mark Jeffrey Lamport, Neil Patrick Maidment, Chris Moulder, Stephanie Jacina Whyte, and Angus Christian Winther.

Ecclesiastical Insurance Office PLC is a Public Limited Company, and its shares are traded on the London Stock Exchange. At the time of writing they were valued at £1.34 each. But the majority if the company’s shares – more than 75 per cent – are owned by its parent company, Benefact Group Plc.

Benefact Group PLC was registered on 26 April 1983 as a shelf company – Leadcolt Ltd, becoming Ecclesiastical Holdings PLC on 31 May 1983. It changed its name to Ecclesiastical Insurance Group PLC in August 1989, becoming Benefact Group PLC in March 2022.

The company has nine officers. With the exception of Neil Patrick Maidment and Stephanie Jacina Whyte, they are the same as the officers of Ecclesiastical Insurance Office PLC.

Benefact Group PLC is not listed on the London Stock Exchange, and the majority of its shares – more than 75 per cent – are owned by its parent company, Benefact Trust Ltd.

Benefact Trust Ltd is a not-for-profit company, limited by guarantee rather than shares. It was registered as Allchurches Trust Ltd in February 1972, changing its name to Benefact Trust Ltd in March 2022, at the same time as Ecclesiastical Insurance Group PLC became Benefact Group PLC.

Benefact Trust Ltd has nine officers. As with the earlier mentioned companies, its company secretary is Rachael Jane Hall. It shares one director with the other companies: Francois-Xavier Bernard Boisseau. Its other directors are Timothy Joseph Carroll, Caroline Kauslick Coombs, the Revd Paul Harold Davis, Dr Ian Keith Moore, David Scott Paterson, Patrick Rudden, and John Nicholas Sykes.

The directors of Benefact Trust Ltd are also all charity trustees. Every single one of them – because Benefact Trust Ltd is a registered charity, and so the company’s directors are also its charity trustees. What is charitable about a multi-million pound insurance company?

And as the owners of Benefact Group PLC and through them, Ecclesiastical Insurance Office PLC, how are the trustees ensuring that the insurance company provides its services in a way which upholds the charitable purposes of Benefact Trust Ltd?

Is it charitable for victims of abuse to be treated the way they are by Ecclesiastical? And what role does the Charity Commission have in ensuring that the actions of Ecclesiastical Insurance Office PLC do not harm the reputation of Benefact Trust Ltd, or harm confidence in the charity sector?

Which brings me back to churches. Parochial Church Councils are all charities. And PCC members are charity trustees. As trustees they have a number of statutory duties, and the Charity Commission says that as part of managing risks, charity trustees “must take reasonable steps to protect from harm people who come into contact with your charity.”

With many victims of church related abuse reporting how they were badly treated by Ecclesiastical Insurance Office, are charity trustees taking reasonable steps to protect people from harm if they take out church insurance with Ecclesiastical? Should they have a duty to consider alternative insurance companies?

How many PCCs actually obtain quotes from other insurance companies? How many just blindly insure with Ecclesiastical because they’ve always been insured with them, or because the diocese or the national church institutions suggest that churches need to be insured with Ecclesiastical?

A few paragraphs ago, I asked this question: “What is charitable about a multi-million pound insurance company?” Benefact Trust Ltd would likely say that their charitable purpose is fulfilled by the giving of grants. Certainly, the charity’s registered objects are “to promote the Christian religion, to contribute to the funds of any charitable institutions, associations, funds or objects and to carry out any charitable purpose.” That’s quite broad and open ended.

Who does Benefact Trust give grants to? Its latest published annual reports and accounts, to year ending December 2022, lists grants above £100,000 made over the previous two years. These include grants to most Church of England dioceses:

Bath and Wells£121,000£126,000£247,000
Sodor and Man
Southwell and Nottingham£147,000£145,000£292,000
St Albans£188,000£178,000£366,000
St Edmundsbury and Ipswich£103,000£103,000

This is only a fraction of the money Benefact Trust Ltd have given to Church of England entities. In 2022, in addition to the £188,000 shown above, they gave a separate grant of £202,000 to the Liverpool Diocesan Board of Finance. In 2021 they gave £750,000 to the Church Urban Fund and £450,000 to the National Society – the Church of England and Church in Wales’ schools charity. And in 2022 they gave £250,000 to Safe Spaces, the joint venture between the Archbishops’ Council and the Catholic Church in England and Wales providing a helpline for victims of church-related abuse. And there were various other grants for other Church of England bodies, including cathedrals and parishes.

Back to the Charity Commission’s statutory guidance for trustees. Charity trustees must act in their charity’s best interests. This means that trustees should “avoid putting [themselves] in a position where [their] duty to [their] charity conflicts with [their] personal interests or loyalty to any other person or body”.

And amongst their considerations when making decisions as a trustee, they should “take account of all relevant factors [they] are aware of” and “deal with conflicts of interest and loyalty”.

How many PCC minutes will contain details of discussions about a conflict of interest when choosing to renew an insurance policy with Ecclesiastical Insurance Office? How many PCC members are even aware that there is a conflict of interest? How many PCCs have been given options about insurance at renewal time? I’d hazard a guess that many are simply told what the renewal premium will be – it being a given that Ecclesiastical will be the insurer.

Another question to ask: why doesn’t the Church of England, and its myriad bodies, challenge Ecclesiastical over its treatment of victims of church related abuse? Well, I would argue that there are more than 12 million reasons why the Church of England doesn’t challenge Ecclesiastical. Or 12 million and one – the “one” being Ecclesiastical’s willingness to collude with the Church of England on reputation management and on-going systematic re-abuse of victims.

I would argue that any Parochial Church Council that chooses to insure themselves with Ecclesiastical Insurance Office are failing in their statutory duty to protect people from harm. Ecclesiastical are responsible for the re-abuse of victims. Their behaviour is not Christian. It is not Charitable. And it is not moral.

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