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Over 1,000 charities Combine in one of the largest mergers EVER

More than 1,000 charities have unified in one of the largest voluntary sector mergers in history.

Earlier this year, 1,279 Jehovah’s Witness congregations merged into national charity the Kingdom Hall Trust.

Charity Commission records show this is by far the largest merger of 2022 and it is likely to be one of the largest mergers ever.

The merger has contributed to a year-on-year rise in charities removed from the register already in 2022, with four months left to go.

Financial implications

The Kingdom Hall Trust was originally named the London Company of Kingdom Witnesses when it was set up in 1939. It registered as a charity in 1978 and changed its name in 1994 after gaining status as a trust corporation.

The trust, which aims to advance the Christian religion practised by Jehovah’s Witnesses, has seen its income grow sharply in recent years as former congregations have merged into it.

In 2019 a letter to congregation members suggested the merging of the charities.

In the year to August 2021, 354 congregations merged into the trust, while 1,269 integrated into it the year before.

As these mergers took place, from 2018-19 to 2020-21, the trust's income rose from £7m to £133m.

According to its 2020-21 accounts, £102m of the charity’s £133m income came from the “transfer of the beneficial ownership of Kingdom Halls from the merging charities”. Donations to the national charity also increased as they included funds that previously went to now-merged congregations.

Income for the 1,279 congregations dissolved in 2022 ranged from £2,000 to £20,000, with an average turnover of around £10,000.

This suggests there will be around an extra £13m to be gained by the Kingdom Hall Trust in 2021-22, increasing its overall income to about £146m, plus however much their physical assets are valued at.

Andrew Schofield from the public information department for Jehovah's Witnesses told Civil Society News that the purpose of the merger was to relieve elders of administrative tasks.

He said: “Essentially the aim of the merger was to relieve administrative burdens from thousands of individual elders (religious ministers) who serve local ecclesiastical congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses across the country, many of whom also served as charity trustees, and to make better use of donated funds. Before the merger, all congregation charities had to manage the administrative requirements of being a separate entity, including legally caring for properties, charity registration, Gift Aid, banking and payment processes.

“Such matters could be a burden on individual elders and distract them from focusing on their primary religious and pastoral responsibilities. To facilitate this, KHT takes on legal ownership of properties, provides payment and receipt processing systems, and centralises many costs of local ecclesiastical congregations. Elders serving the ecclesiastical congregations are now able to carry out their previous spiritual and pastoral activities unimpeded, having now been relieved of the administrative responsibilities and processes of charity trustees.”

More charities removed from the register

So far, 4,127 charities have been struck off the register in this calendar year compared to 3,594 the year prior.

Over the past 10 years, removed charities peaked at 5,835 in 2019, but went back down to 3,825 in 2020.

Charities can be removed from the register for a multitude of reasons, from a lack of members, losing funds or if a charity's purpose is no longer relevant.

The figure for 2022 accounts for the number of charities removed up until 23 August.

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