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If you are buying a property, you may have noticed the term ‘Chancel repair liability search’ and wondered what you were paying for and whether you really need it.

What is Chancel Repair Liability?

Chancel repair liability is a legal obligation on some property owners in England and Wales to pay for certain repairs to a local church.

Homeowners have found themselves with a large bill to pay for repairs, under a medieval law which dates back to the time of Henry VIII.

Local parish councils have been legally responsible for the upkeep of the ‘chancel’ since the 13th century, this refers to the part of the church that contains the choir and altar and can include the walls and windows. The law states that the parish council is entitled to ask for a contribution, known as a ‘tithe’ from homeowners with property in an area subject to chancel repair liability.

Who is liable?

Regardless of whether you never miss a church service or you have never stepped foot into a church, you could still be liable to pay chancel repair liability if your property falls within an area that is answerable to liability.

Is this law still applicable today?

Yes, depending on the location of your property, there is a possibility that you will receive a bill from your local parish council.  The Law changed on 13 October 2013 and the right to demand repair costs is “only” enforceable against an owner of land if it has been protected by registration of a notice against the registered title. In the case of Unregistered Land, the liability can be registered by way of a caution against first registration. In practice, this means that the owner of any property where chancel repair liability is now recorded in its register at Land Registry may be asked to pay by the church authorities. With 5,000 parishes around the country, it’s something you need to know about and be prepared should a bill come through your door.

The Land Registry advises that no other properties in England and Wales can be completely free of the chance of liability until they are now sold with no such notice in their register. This means that parochial church councils in England and the Representative Body of the Church in Wales can continue to apply to register chancel repair liability for years to come, but if they fail to identify and register their right before a property is sold, the liability may disappear forever if it is not already in the register or referred to in the deeds where the property is unregistered.

Common misconceptions

Sometimes people have incorrect ideas about whether or not they are affected, some of the following are inaccurate beliefs we come across:

  • Inheriting a property from a family member or friend stops the property from being registered as liable
  • The likelihood of receiving a bill reduces the longer you live in your property
  • Properties can no longer be registered by the church as this ended in 2013.

None of the above are factually accurate, but because the law surrounding chancel repair is so old, it is often very complicated which leads to misguided information, so it is important that you make sure you have adequate protection for your property.

Can you protect your property against it?

Liability for chancel repair does not necessarily show on the title deeds of a property, so if you are buying a property, you should make sure that you use a reputable solicitor and that they conduct a pre-exchange search, which will determine whether your property is an area that is subject to the liability. If the property is registered as liable for chancel repairs, or could be put on the register, it is advisable that you take out insurance to protect you against future bills that you might receive.

The Chancel Repair Liability Indemnity Insurance provides cover where your inherited or purchased property is or may be within the historical boundary of a parish or district with a potential liability to pay all or part of the cost of repair to a church. The Policy is designed to ensure the Client and their Lender are indemnified against loss arising from a claim under the policy, subject to the policy terms and conditions. There are other Policies available for varying costs that also protect any subsequent Successors in Title.

Proactive modern Law Firms, such as ours, place any property that our Clients have purchased straight on to a block Chancel Repair Indemnity Insurance Policy as standard practice, the cost of the block Policy is nominal, usually in the region of £10-£15. This is extremely good value for money and should be considered in any purchase transaction.

If you are buying or have inherited a property and would like to discuss Chancel Repair Liability, give us a call today on 0343 507 5151. You can also send us an email to enquiries@gorvins.com with details of your property or have a look at our Residential Property page and fill in the online contact form.