Chancel repair liability - why is it still relevant today?

07/01/2019

What is “Chancel Repair Liability”?

It relates to the obligation on some land owners to contribute towards local church repairs.  The chancel is the part of the church where the altar is and where the clergy and choir sit.

The laws governing chancel repair liability stem from medieval times where land, previously owned by the church, had been sold and the new owner took on the repairing obligation attached to that land. It is a financial obligation and still affects those properties, even though it may not be registered, and is therefore incredibly difficult to find out about.

A court case in 2008 established that property owners do have to pay towards these costs, even where they are not registered against the property title, and they can run to hundreds of thousands of pounds, so is not a risk that the buyer of a property should take.

How you can find out if your property has any potential liability

Often it would be impossible or almost impossible (and would take very many hours’ investigation) to obtain a definitive answer as to whether a property is actually subject to chancel repair liability. The records relating to the chancel repair liabilities are hundreds of years old and are not held in one place.

Investigations can be made at the Records of Ascertainments in the National Archives. However, the time and cost involved in this kind of search would be significant and still may not provide a conclusive answer. It has therefore become common practice to carry out a “desktop chancel search”, using an automated search facility, which gives an immediate answer stating whether the property does or does not have a potential liability.

If the result is that there is a potential liability then we will recommend putting in place a chancel indemnity insurance policy.

The policy does not prevent any enforcement action, but it does, subject to the policy terms and conditions, cover the loss arising from a claim.

The change in the law…

The law on Chancel Repair was changed in 2013 but the change did not actually abolish chancel repair liability. It did, however, introduce some protections for homeowners so that if a property is affected by chancel repair liability then it is more easily discoverable.

The result is that, if the property in question has been sold since 13 October 2013 then, as long as no chancel liability has been registered against the property’s title, then in general there is no need to carry out a chancel search or put insurance in place. This is because the change in the law removed the ‘overriding interest’ status of chancel repair liability.

Although every effort has been made to ensure that the information provided in this article is accurate and correct, the information provided does not constitute any form of advice.