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What is chancel repair liability?

Chancel repair liability is an ancient obligation attached to land, dating back in its current form to the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1500s. If land is subject to chancel repair liability, it means that the owners are responsible for funding repairs to the ‘chancel’ of a medieval Anglican church. The chancel is the part of the church containing the altar and choir.

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Originally, the liability attached to the rectors of the church, who also received tithes from the parish. However, as land has since been sold and subdivided many times, it could attach to any property – even commercial property and new build houses.

Cases of home owners being notified that their property is subject to chancel repair liability have hit the news, for example, in the village of Stottesdon in Shropshire, where many landowners received notices that the local church had registered the liability against their properties. In Aston Cantlow in Warwickshire, the Wallbanks received a demand for almost £100,000. In many cases in the past, landowners had absolutely no idea that their property was subject to this ancient liability until they received a bill for significant sums of money.

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How will I know if my property is subject to chancel repair liability?

It is tempting to think that a property will only be affected by the liability if it is very close to the church or very old itself, but this is not the case. Any property can be subject to the liability; the church in question could be on the other side of the parish, or your property could be a brand new house or commercial unit.

If you have owned your property since before 2013, you may well have bought it unaware of any liability. When the Land Registration Act 2002 came into force, the Parochial Church Council for the church in question had a 10-year deadline to register chancel repair liabilities against registered land or lodge a caution against first registration if the land was not registered at the Land Registry. Before this date, the liability was an ‘overriding interest’, which meant that it affected land even if it was not registered at the Land Registry or as a land charge, and the unfortunate landowner would have no idea that the liability affected them.

If you bought your house after 13 October 2013, your conveyancer will have notified you if chancel repair liability was registered against it as part of the checks they carried out on the title of the property. However, although the Land Registration Act should have acted as a deadline, it has not really worked in this way because there are still some instances in which a Parochial Church Council can validly register notice of the interest against a property. The Land Registry often registers these notices without looking into whether there is actually a valid reason for doing so, leaving the landowner with the problem of removing the notice. If the Land Registry lodges notice of the liability against your property, the value of the property and/or your ability to sell it could be drastically affected.

What action should I take?

If you are considering buying a property, you should course obtain full conveyancing quotes from sites that offer conveyancing quotes . A meticulous conveyancer will carry out necessary title searches on your behalf and advise you on the implications of chancel repair liability as it may affect the property you are purchasing. Conveyancing quotes will include details of the insurance the conveyancer advises in connection with the liability.

It is possible to insure against chancel repair liability for a moderate sum, and many conveyancers will recommend insurance as a matter of course. This insurance gives property owners peace of mind and helps to protect the value of their property.

It is important that you do not try to carry out research into whether your property is subject to chancel repair liability yourself. If you do so, this may make it impossible to obtain insurance.

Why is chancel repair liability important?

The amount of liability that could be involved is significant, perhaps up to hundreds of thousands of pounds. The liability is ‘joint and several’, meaning the church can send the bill to just one landowner rather than dividing it between all the properties subject to the liability. If the other landowners cannot pay, you may still have to do so.

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