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'One of the Success Stories of the Church'

'One of the Success Stories of the Church'

Wednesday May 15

Lin Macmillan reflects on the 50th anniversary of the Church’s Housing and Loan Fund.

The Church of Scotland Housing and Loan Fund for Retired Ministers and Widows and Widowers of Ministers celebrates its 50th birthday next month (June).

The seeds for the Fund were sown when the General Assembly of 1965 recognised the difficulties faced by ministers in providing their own house for retirement and approved the setting up of a “Retired Ministers’ Housing Fund”. Over the next four years discussions took place mainly between the Aged and Infirm Ministers’ Fund (forerunner of the Ministers’ Pension Scheme), the Ministry Department and the Baird Trust.

All three bodies contributed towards the setting up of the Fund – £100,000 in total – and the first meeting of the Fund’s Board of Trustees took place on June 2 1969.

Initially assistance was small loans of around £500 to £1,500, but in 1970 the average price of a house was just under £5,000. The Fund started to accumulate a small number of houses available for rent as properties were gifted or bequeathed – over the years around 40 houses have come to the Fund this way.

By 1979 the Fund’s positive financial position enabled it to purchase five houses for rent and it has added to its stock every year since. Over £39 million has been spent on buying houses and £28 million has come back from house sales. Currently the Fund owns 212 houses all over Scotland. Retired ministers pay rent equivalent to 50% of market rent, whilst widows and widowers of ministers pay 25% of market rent.

Loans have continued to be given, and are now more substantial – the Trustees may be prepared to provide loans up to 70% of the maximum house purchase (currently capped at £175,000). Loans advanced over the years have totalled nearly £13 million with over £6 million being repaid. Interest rates are typically lower than commercial rates. A considerable number of individuals have also been helped with Short-term Bridging Loans.

The Trustees have been grateful not just for the gifts of houses but also for around £5.5 million received from donations, trust income and legacies, and for around £14 million contributed by congregations between 1979 and 2017.

The Trustees recognise the properties are someone’s home, but are also an investment that requires careful stewardship. For both reasons they endeavour to ensure all properties are well-maintained and benefit from improvements to keep them up-to-date and to provide occupants with a safe, warm and comfortable home.

The Fund’s staff have had to deal with all sorts of emergencies and some comical situations. The most serious problems have ranged from fires, floods and falling trees, to coping with resident bats or squirrels. One elderly tenant complained her neighbours were coming in and stealing her food, so the staff arranged for her locks to be changed. The lady promptly got extra keys cut and distributed them to her neighbours!

Many of the Fund’s beneficiaries have occupied their house for a long time – the oldest tenancy dates back to 1980, and the oldest outstanding loan was paid out in 1985. The Fund’s oldest tenant is currently 95 years young!

Several years ago, the Housing and Loan Fund was described, at the General Assembly, as “one of the success stories of the Church”. Over 1,000 individuals have benefitted from its work, and the Trustees are gratified that the Fund has supported so many. The Fund is in a healthy position 50 years on, and the Trustees look forward to supporting more ministers and their spouses in the future.

Anyone wishing to make enquiries about the Fund is encouraged to contact the Secretary in the Church offices on 0131 225 5722.