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Chancel Repair – Is it still a concern?

A photo of Kelly Roberts
12th September 2022

This may seem to be a little “archaic” these days and most people are unlikely to have ever heard of it, but should we still be worried about this?

To give you some insight as to what it is, Chancel Repair is a legal liability. It’s a financial obligation which dates back hundreds of years, way back to Medieval times. Some houses (and flats) stand upon land which is still subject to a perpetual liability to contribute towards the costs of repairs to the chancel of the parish Church. Even if the property is not that close in location to a Church, the potential for that liability still exists. This is why it can be difficult to ascertain if a property is affected by this liability.

It came about because the land originally formed part of a rectory, an endowment to support the priest who serves a parish. During the Middle Ages monasteries acquired a large number of those rectories and after dissolution (Under Henry VIII) some of the land previously owned by the rectories then came into lay ownership. It was the relevant acts of parliament which made it clear that the land was to be held on the same terms as the Monastic owners and that included the obligation to repair the Church.

There have been instances where homeowners have tried to dispute this liability. There was a well reported case in 2003 which reached the House of Lords. A couple in Warwickshire were held responsible for chancel repairs of almost £100,000.00. As they fought the case and lost the legal fees were almost £300,000.00 and they were forced to sell their home.

The Law changed in 2012 and from 13 October 2013 chancel repair ceased to be an overriding interest. This meant the parochial Church Council (PCC) had until the 12 October 2013 to register the liability at the Land Registry or it would lose automatic protection. Apparently, there was approximately 250 churches that had applied for this right to be attached to more than 12,000 properties.

However, it is important to understand that despite the change in Law, chancel repair liability has not been abolished, it still exists. The fact that the Church has not registered the liability does not mean they have lost the right to apply. The right will only be lost once a property has exchanged hands for a valuable consideration. This means for money such by way of sale and not by way of gift, that does not apply.

Therefore, if a property has not changed hands for a valuable consideration since October 2013, then chancel repair could still be a liability as the church can still lodge a notice right up until Completion.

A Chancel Repair Search or Chancel Repair Indemnity Insurance are available at quite a modest cost. The Search itself will confirm whether the property is situated within a parish where a potential liability exists. If it is then Indemnity Insurance is available.

Indemnity Insurance is actually available with or without the Search.