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What is Chancel Repair Liability?

When buying a house, you will have to have searches done to turn up anything unusual about the property. One of the things a search can reveal is whether you are liable for chancel repair. But what does this actually mean?

Chancel repair liability is a legal obligation to pay for repairs to a church, which may or may not be the local parish church. If your property is on land that was once part of a rectory, you may have inherited the responsibility to fund repairs to the church which that land supported. Just because a property is not necessarily situated in close proximity to a church building means you cannot assume that you won’t be affected. It is a very old law but it does mean that the church, or more correctly, the Parochial Parish Council (PCC) can legitimately ask any homeowner whose house is on church land, to contribute to any repairs to the chancel.

The chancel is the part of the church containing the altar and the choir of an Anglican parish church. It may not sound like much, but if the roof of the chancel needs replacing, the bill for it could run to thousands of pounds.

In 2003, Andrew and Gail Wallbank, who inherited a farm in Warwickshire, received a demand for almost £100,000 to fund repairs for their ecclesiastical parish’s medieval church under chancel repair liability and ended up selling the property.

Recent changes have meant that PCCs had until 12 October 2013 to register their right to receive a contribution towards the upkeep of their church chancel but if the liability was not registered by that date it did not cease to exist, and it remains possible to register a notice of chancel repair liability for registered land or a caution against registration for unregistered land.

Properties purchased and registered before 12 October 2013 still remain vulnerable until the property is next sold.

Unless a previous purchase of the property took place after 12 October 2013, you can expect conveyancers to continue to recommend a chancel search and/or chancel repair liability insurance.

Roughly 250 churches have so far registered 12,276 homes or plots of land as being liable. However, as many as 5,000 parish churches have yet to register their rights meaning the final total could be much higher. Checking for whether a home could be affected by a chancel repair liability is a vital part of the conveyancing work that your property lawyer will carry out if relevant when you are buying a property.

The main thing to take from this is to get proper searches done by a property lawyer to ensure that no matter what, there won’t be any nasty surprises down the line. You want to be able to enjoy your new home without the risk of coming across anything unknown in the future which may impact on its value.

If you would like legal advice regarding chancel repair liability, or you are considering buying or selling a property, please contact our conveyancing lawyers at Slater and Gordon. Call us on freephone 0800 223 0069 or contact us online and we will call you.

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