Chancel repair liability – what does this mean for homeowners?

Year Published: 2013

What are chancel repairs?

A chancel repair liability is the requirement for an owner of land to pay for the repair of the chancel (the part of the church containing the altar and the choir) of an Anglican parish church.

What is a chancel?

The chancel is the roughly the area (including the altar and the choir stalls), which accounts for around 25% of the total area of the church.

What is the legal background?

‘Overriding interests’ are third parties’ interests in land that can bind a purchaser of that land even though the rights are not mentioned in the register of title kept by Land Registry, or in the title deeds if unregistered land. These are applicable even though the purchaser does not know about them.

Chancel Repair liability is classed as an overriding interest.

What is the standard of repair required: Is it unlimited?

It was thought to be nothing more than keeping the Chancel watertight and maintaining essential fittings.

There was no obligation to provide repair which was purely ornamental and decorative. This seems to be no longer the case as in the ‘Wallbank’ case it seems that improvements can now be factored in to the cost.

What law governs chancel repairs?

The 1932 Chancel Repair Act transferred jurisdiction from the Ecclesiastical Courts to the County Court. The main issues are contained in the 1936 Tithes Act.

Will the title to my property at the Land Registry show any chancel repair liability?

No, however, if there is no entry placed against your title at the Land Registry by 2013 (because of legislation passed in 2002) then the liability cannot be enforced against you.

Chancel Repair Liability lost its status as an overriding interest at midnight on 12 October 2013.

Are there any loop holes in the Chancel Repair Legislation?

Where a piece of land is not yet registered but subject to potential chancel repair liability, the land will remain subject to that potential liability even after the 2013 cut off point, up until the eventual sale of the property.

If this is the case, an option may be to voluntarily register your property at the Land Registry, or more cost effectively, seek chancel repair liability insurance now if you can.

Who can enforce chancel repair liability?

It is the responsibility of each Parochial Church Council (PCC) to enforce the liability rather than the church as a whole.

How far away from the church does my house have to be?

In the leading case, Mr & Mrs Wallbank were a quarter of a mile away, but you could still be liable 30 miles away – the area is not exhaustive.

What about my human rights, I don’t follow the Church of England?

The human rights argument was used in the Wallbank case. The Court rejected the argument that the liability was ‘an unfair and arbitrary tax’ as the PPC is not a public body but a charity, and church repairs were a private matter.

Will the knowledge of the liability have an effect on the value of my house?

Vendors may have difficulty selling as the Chancel Repair Liability is unlimited.

If there is any doubt, can I insure the property against future liability?

In short, yes. A search is also available and is compulsory for any person wishing to purchase with the assistance of a mortgage. You can request your conveyancer or solicitor to insure for the full amount of the purchase price. The indemnity policy typically costs between £20.00 and £50.00 to cover the risk. If the parish request in the future that the buyer contributes towards repairing the chancel, the buyer has an indemnity policy to cover any cost (up to the value of the property).

We can arrange insurance through our contacts on your behalf.

I have received a notice that the local parish are attempting to register a charge against my property because I am in a chancel repair liability area. I do not have an insurance policy, so what can I do to stop this?

In the event that the owner fails to pay then the Parochial Church Council can enforce the demand through the courts.

Around one third of parish churches may be entitled to recover cost of repairs from neighbours’ who own all or part of church’s historical land.

What advice does SAS Daniels give?

If you are buying a property, it is prudent to have a chancel search and in any event take out the insurance. It is recommended that you do so whether you are obtaining a mortgage or buying cash.

For further information on chancel repair liability, please contact our residential conveyancing team on 0161 475 7676.

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