Your responsibility for unoccupied church buildings

19 October 2023

See some of the questions we frequently hear from our customers about managing an unoccupied church building.

Sun shining through windows in an empty church with wooden panelling and beams.

Can I keep the heating on during the winter?

Yes, you can, and you must contact us to discuss the situation and the reasons why you wish to maintain the heating, and the heating remaining on, as we normally require central heating systems to be drained down.

Where water systems cannot be isolated and drained down, there will be certain conditions you must meet, and these are listed below.

Where you are keeping the heating on, you must maintain the central heating system to prevent freezing and:

  • The system should be inspected to ensure it operates correctly whenever such buildings are inspected.
  • The temperature throughout the building must be maintained at not less than 7 degrees Centigrade (45 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • The system must be serviced and maintained at least annually by an appropriately qualified engineer.

Why do I have to do regular inspections?

A lot can happen in a brief period; for example, small amounts of malicious damage can quickly turn into an arson incident or unauthorised access to the site, for example, squatters at the premises.

Maintaining a visible presence at the church gives the appearance of the church being in some form of use. Also, the sooner you can identify an issue, the quicker you can rectify it.

Can we let the building out?

We actively encourage you to bring the church back into use. You must contact us to let us know how you will use the building. The policy cover, terms and premium may need to be changed to reflect this.

Why can’t I use the building as a storage facility?

The biggest risk for unoccupied properties is fire, including arson; for this reason, storing combustible items in the church can increase the risk of fire spreading and make it a target for break-ins and theft.

We haven’t been using the building every week for months, so why have you now classified it as unoccupied and changed the cover?

We appreciate that the building may have only been used for a while. However, when the property is not in use on a permanent basis, we find that the general maintenance of the building may reduce, and unoccupied buildings are more likely to be targeted for vandalism and malicious damage.

Why is my premium more expensive? Nothing is going on in there.

Our experience shows that unoccupied properties are more susceptible to damage through arson, crime, and potentially squatters, and the premium must reflect this increased risk. You can reduce the premium by reducing the sum insured, taking a higher excess or bringing the property back into use.

The church is in the middle of nowhere, and we cannot comply with the inspection. What should we do?

If you cannot comply with the inspection frequency, please contact us to discuss your options.

What about church halls?

Please be advised that church halls do not follow the same criteria for closure or redundancy. Where there is no more use of the building the PCC would usually remain responsible for the church hall until a sale is completed.

Is a church undergoing building works considered to be unoccupied?

If the building is going to be unoccupied for some time before the start of or following the completion of building works, please get in touch with us as soon as possible, as it may be necessary for us to amend your cover. In particular, if your contract involves work using heat, for example, leadwork on roofs.

My church is only closed for a short period of time. Do I still need to follow all the guidance for unoccupied buildings?

Not all churches that need to close for a while will follow the same process. For example, you may have a property undergoing building works that will not be used in that period for worship. In this situation, we would ask you to contact us to discuss your situation with one of our expert team members who can talk to you about your options.