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What is Chancel Repair Liability?

9th November 2017

By Probate Conveyancing Solicitor Victoria Leech

A chancel is the part of a church which contains the altar, sanctuary and choir. If a property sits within a parish that contains a medieval church which existed prior to 1536 then the property owners might have a liability to contribute towards the cost of chancel repairs. The liability comes from historical land ownership of the church and the effects of the Chancel Repair Act 1932.

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The Potential Risk

There is a famous legal case where a couple named Andrew and Gail Wallbank inherited a property in Warwickshire in 1970. They then received a demand for over £95,000 in 1994 to fund repairs to the parish’s medieval church. After a long legal battle, which went all the way to the House of Lords, the decision of the court was in favour of the Parochial Church Council, leaving the Wallbanks with a bill in the hundreds of thousands (for the repairs and the legal costs). The Wallbanks had to sell the property in order to meet the costs.

How to Manage Chancel Repair Liability

Following this case it became good practice for purchasers to check whether the local parish contained a church which had the right to demand contributions towards a chancel’s maintenance. Where such liability was discovered, chancel liability insurance would be recommended, to cover the homeowner for any required contribution towards repairs.

The Land Registration Act of 2002 allowed the Parochial Parish Council 10 years to register their interest in properties affected by chancel liability. Therefore, the onus was placed on Parochial Church Councils to register that interest before the cut-off date, of midnight on the 12th October 2013. It’s important to note that even if the liability was not registered before that date it does not mean it has ceased to exist. It is still possible for the Parochial Parish Council to register a notice of chancel repair to owners of an affected property, even if the Parochial Parish Council did not register their interest before the cut-off date.

Therefore, if you purchased, were gifted or inherited a property before 13th October 2013 and there is nothing noted on the registered title concerning chancel repairs it would be wise to obtain insurance to cover the potential liability.

If your property is unregistered the Parochial Parish Council would need to register a caution against first registration to protect their interest. A caution against first registration would mean the Parochial Parish Council’s claim to an interest in the property would have to be considered before a property’s title can be registered. Again, the liability will still exist before the property has been registered and obtaining insurance would be a good idea.

If the property has no mention of the liability on the title or there is no caution against first registration, and it was purchased on or after 13th October 2013 then you will not be liable for the contribution to the chancel repair.

If you are unsure whether your property is liable for chancel repair, speak to a Conveyancer.

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