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SPECIAL REPORT: Jesus Army workers facing large pensions gap because church did not pay their National Insurance

Website: Northampton Chronicle and Echo
Date: 09/08/2019
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Dozens of former Jesus Army (JA) residents who toiled day and night to look after one of the organisation's many communal houses are facing having to take reduced pensions - as their elders chose not to pay their National Insurance.

In May, the Christian sect formed in Bugbrooke announced plans to disband following a wave of abuse allegations - exclusively revealed to be more than 100-strong by this newspaper back in 2017.

A group of ex-members known as the Jesus Fellowship Survivors Association are leading an effort to see those abused sexually, physically, financially and spiritually compensated by the church.

But among those making claims against the church are people who looked after the communal Jesus Army houses around the country - many of which were in Northampton.

The church made part of its revenue through a number of business ventures - such as a large potato farm in Nether Heyford and a building services contractor. Several ex-members who worked on the farm as children have described the work as ‘slave labour' as they did not actually receive a wage, it was ploughed into the common purse.

The so-called employees had their National Insurance contributions paid by the church elders.

But the Chronicle & Echo has now learned that dozens of members who maintained the church's many communal houses did not have those contributions paid for a number of years - as they were not originally classed as having a job.

Often their daily life involved long, strenuous hours catering for up to 30 housemates at a time. In the 1980s it was agreed that they should, in fact, be classed as workers.

But for many there had already been a significant gap in their National Insurance contributions.

Ian Johnson founded the JA's Goodness Foods bakery in Daventry only to leave during the 1980s out of principle. His wife Jeannie was among those affected.

"For people, we know this has had a dramatic effect," he said.

"One person I know is 70 and has had to get an extra job because of the shortage in their pension. My wife should have been paid another five years' worth of contributions. That would have been at about £1,000 a year. That's a lot of money.

"I know of at least four people this is affecting and there could be dozens more."

Mr Johnson, 70, who now runs a successful lettings business on Crete, has urged the Jesus Army to fill in the National Insurance payment gaps for the communal house workers.

"People that lived in the communes were basically being looked after as if they lived in a hotel."

These workers should have been classed as employees."

Mr Johnson is calling on the Jesus Army to make up the pension shortfall as part of the ongoing redress scheme but he says the organisation is yet to give him firm answers on whether this will be the case.

There are currently more than 100 claims being made against the religious sect - papers seen by the Chronicle and Echo show its asset value to be about £58 million.

The Jesus Army still owns 55 properties, according to the leaked papers. Many of the properties are communal houses - though there are currently only 200 people believed to still be living in them.

The Jesus Army Battlecentre in London is listed as being worth £13 million ‘dependant on planning caveats'.

Mr Johnson believes the Jesus Army - a registered charity aimed at helping the needy - has a moral duty to compensate the commune workers.

"People who lived in the communes were basically being looked after as if they lived in a hotel," he said. "These workers should have been classed as employees."

A spokesman for the Jesus Army said the redress scheme would "soon be open to sympathetically deal with the claims of people who consider that they had a bad experience in connection with the church."

He said that extended to "people with money concerns" such as those whose National Insurance contributions were not paid.

The Jesus Fellowship Survivors Association is working with the church to compensate victims of abuse. A spokeswoman said: "We have heard, and are still hearing, many stories like Ian's.

"We are pushing hard for restitution of financial harm to be included alongside a redress scheme being set up in conjunction with the JFCT (Jesus Fellowship Community Trust).

"As part of this involvement, we are putting pressure on the JFCT to do the right thing, morally, regarding financial redress for adults.

"Whilst working with the redress scheme we are also working with solicitors to bring group civil actions."