Council demand ‘absurd’ health and safety checks

Reverend Andy Pakula. Photo: Nick Kostov

A church has accused Hackney Council of delaying its application for a licence to perform same sex civil partnerships on health and safety grounds – despite the church performing weddings for years.

Registrar rules say the council has no obligation to perform such checks.

Rev. Andy Pakula, Minister at Newington Green Unitarian Church, applied for a civil partnership licence in February this year but said it was proving very difficult to get permission and he has been left frustrated.

“I don’t understand why the standards are different. It’s absurd. We need different kinds of inspections and different kinds of specifications,” he said.

Despite the law being changed last year to enable civil partnerships to be performed on religious premises of faith groups, Mr Pakula told Hackney Post no church in London has been granted a licence despite several applying.

Will Druett is in charge of the application; he confirmed all the documents were completed long ago and the £250 fee had been paid. The only incomplete part of the application is a building control inspection.

The church received an email from Julia Campbell, Senior Ceremonies Officer at Hackney Council, on 25 April stating that a control inspector would be in touch over the next few weeks.

Exactly six months later, a date for the inspection is yet to be set.

It is also unclear why the Council is insisting on carrying out the building control inspection when the premises have already been approved for marriages.

The Registrar General’s Guidance for the Approval of Premises as Venues for Civil Partnerships clearly states that the Council has no obligation to inspect the premises if it considers this unnecessary, for example, “because the premises are already used for religious marriages”.

Cai Tomos and his partner Rhys Beynon, both 33, have attended the church for the past six years. They wanted a civil partnership this year but, because of the delay, have settled for a blessing instead.

“Lots of people now want to go through with civil partnerships in places that resonate with their personal values. It makes no sense how long the church has been waiting,” said Mr Tomos.

Ms Campbell confirmed Hackney Council received Newington Green Church’s application and made it clear the council is very keen to be the first London Borough to grant a civil partnership licence to religious premises. She declined to comment on the issue of the inspection.

She pointed to the fact Hackney Council only charged £250 for a licence, with other councils charging over £1,000, as a sign of the council’s good faith.