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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Clamp down on scam churches urge campaigners


Faith groups using 'advancement of religion’ to exploit people

Campaigners for a secular society are calling on regulators to review charity law after a Christian charity was ordered to close over fake covid cures.

The Kingdom Church GB was ordered to close following an investigation into the sales of fake Covid-19 remedies by the church’s pastor and trustee bishop Climate Wiseman, the Charity Commission announced.

The National Secular Society (NSS) raised concerns about the London-based Kingdom Church in 2020, when local media reported that Wiseman was selling 'plague protection kits' made of oil and string through a website linked to the charity.

In 2022 Wiseman was found guilty of fraud for selling the kits, which were medically useless. He has also been disqualified from acting as a charity trustee or holding a senior position in a charity for 15 years.

Five other trustees were also disqualified.

The society now wants regulators to review the charity test which allows 'the advancement of religion' as a charitable purpose.

It comes after a spate of church groups, registered as charites, have fallen foul of regulations and faced public complaints.

Last November, Dave Brackenridge, lead pastor at Home Church Scotland, a charity registered under "the advancement of religion" said Humza Yousaf's election as First Minister was a "scheme of Satan".

Brackenridge is also chief executive of Scottish charity Rookie Rockstars, which provides 'anti-bullying workshops' in primary schools and claims to operate in 23 out of 32 Scottish council areas.

Rookie Rockstars received over £23,000 in funding from the Scottish government and £28,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund, who are now investigating the comments.

The Scottish government declined at the time to comment.

Referring to Kingdom GB’s closure, NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: “We welcome the commission’s decision to shut down this harmful religious charity and disqualify its trustees.

“However, we are concerned that many other charities are using ‘the advancement of religion’ charitable purpose to exploit people, because the law doesn’t clearly define how charities registered under this purpose should demonstrate their public benefit.

“The Kingdom Church case should be a wakeup call. If ‘the advancement of religion’ is enabling organisations peddling fake cures to register as charities, its inclusion on the list of charitable purposes must be challenged.”

Retired Scottish minister, Rev. Daniel Parsley told TFN he backed the move to tighten up the definition of religion in the Charities Act.

“These organisations bring the ministry into disrepute and are often solely created to make money for their pastors,” he said.

“Church groups paying staff high salaries is unusual in the extreme so that should always be a suspicion from the outset.

“New faith groups should be encouraged to be formed so the advancement of religion is an important aspect of the charity test. But it should be carefully reworked to discourage these scam faith groups from popping up across the UK.”



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Gareth Morgan
6 months ago

This is a rather confusing article in TFN because all the details and examples relate to charity law in England and Wales, but there is no mention in the article that the context is E&W. The Charity Commission only has jurisdiction in E&W.

It also seems strange if a "retired Scottish minister" is backing calls to tighten the Charities Act - by which he presumably means the Charities Act 2011 in E&W - but says nothing about charity law in Scotland.

The article also says: "the law doesn’t clearly define how charities registered under this purpose should demonstrate their public benefit" which is true in E&W (although there is clear guidance from the Charity Commission).

But in Scots law the charity test is in the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 and this has a rather more precise definition of the advancement of religion than in E&W. Also, very importantly, the charity test in Scotland includes a requirement that the charity must "provide" public benefit, which is more prescriptive than the requirement in E&W and there is very clear guidance from OSCR as to which this means in practice.

Having said that, it is sometimes possible in any jurisdiction for people to set up charities for lawful purposes and then abuse the charity for other purposes, but the fact that the Charity Commission took action in the case mentioned shows that charity law is working. Charity regulators certainly need more resources to investigate wrong doing by charities (both in E&W and in Scotland) but it's hard to see how changes to the legal definition of charity would help.