Closed churches

26 October 2023

Taking a proactive approach to managing unoccupied churches can help preserve these buildings for future use.

Closed churches wooden door

Closed churches are at risk

According to the Church of England, around 20 to 25 churches close each year1. Closed churches are visited less often and are not likely to benefit from regular maintenance. This makes them more susceptible to damage including:

  • Fire caused by arson or a defective electrical installation
  • Vandalism including malicious damage and graffiti
  • Theft, for example, damage to the building when gaining access, theft of building materials and contents
  • General deterioration caused by adverse weather or water ingress, possibly as a consequence of lack of maintenance
  • Squatters.

As such there are some extra precautions to take which will help you care for your church whilst it is empty.

Shutting down your church

Utility services must be disconnected whilst the property is unoccupied, except where there are existing security systems, fire protection systems, security lighting or sprinkler systems. Installed services should be maintained to ensure they continue to be fully effective at all times.

  • Central heating systems must be drained down. Where water systems cannot be isolated and drained down, a minimum temperature of 7°C must be maintained within the property at all times.
  • Letterboxes must be sealed or, if this is not possible, a metal box or cage must be fitted to the inside of the letterbox. Any post should be removed on a regular basis and arrangements made with the Post Office for mail to be redirected.
  • Redundant contents must be removed from the premises, as should all waste and unfixed combustible materials both internally and externally.
  • Risk assessments for fire, health and safety and asbestos must be reviewed in light of the changing circumstances. Any appropriate control measures which reduce the risk of injury to any visitors should be implemented or maintained.
  • Oil tanks located in the grounds of the site should be drained down.
  • Keys should be recalled, otherwise, locks should be changed.

You should also consider how you communicate the church’s closure to the community. If you have social media channels, particularly those with subscriptions you pay for, they should be cancelled.

Insurance for unoccupied churches

  • Due to the extra risk associated with closed churches, when a church is going to be unoccupied you will need to let us know so we can update your church insurance policy.
  • It is a requirement of church insurance cover that unoccupied buildings are inspected by you, or your appointed representative, on a regular basis. This is to ensure that if damage has occurred e.g. criminal damage to the property, it can be identified and rectified at the earliest opportunity. This helps to mitigate any further damage that may occur if problems are left undetected for an extended period. Any damage identified, whether insured or not, should be reported to your insurers and the police if crime-related.
  • A record of inspections must be maintained as evidence. A template inspection record sheet can be found at the end of our unoccupied church building guidance notes.

Specialist support can be provided by our preferred supplier for this sector - Vacant Property Services (VPS).