Unfortunately not. Described variously as 'arcane and unsatisfactory', 'capricious and uncertain', and 'anachronistic in a largely secular society', successive governments have nonetheless resisted repeated calls to abolish chancel repair liability (CRL), opting instead to phase out this ancient right over a period of ten years. That period came to an end at midnight on 12 October 2013 but we have not heard the last of CRL. The right will continue to affect certain property interests for some time to come.
Remind me what all the fuss is about?
CRL has been causing headaches in the property world for the last ten years. The liability affects land in parishes where there is a Church of England church dating back to medieval times or earlier. Where it exists, CRL allows parochial church councils (PCCs) to call upon property owners in the parish to fund repairs to the chancel, which is the eastern part of the church where the altar and choir stalls are usually situated.
There is no single conclusive way of identifying whether a property owner is liable as records at the National Archives office are incomplete and their accuracy is not guaranteed. Any type of property can be subject to CRL, regardless of where it is located. Evidence of liability will not necessarily be found in the title deeds and CRL used to bind owners of affected land even though there was nothing on the Land Register to alert them to its existence. That is going to change but only after a period of transition during which uncertainty will continue in some cases.
And what was that case that lit the spark?
In existence for centuries, CRL only came to the attention of the public in 2003 when the House of Lords ruled in PCC of the Parish of Aston Cantlow v Wallbank that a couple in Warwickshire were liable to pay £95,000 towards repairs to their local church. The decision created anxiety in the property world to an extent that was probably out of proportion to the actual risks involved but, nonetheless, gave birth to a new search and insurance industry. Fuelled by lender concerns, it became the norm to search a commercial database to establish whether there was a potential liability in a parish and to insure against it if there was.
The Church’s stance
Adverse publicity in the Cotswold village of Broadway last year resulted in one PCC backing down but there is evidence that other PCCs, strapped for cash and unsure of future public funding, have not been so lenient. The Land Registry estimates that, ahead of the deadline, 89 PCCs have made 700 applications to register CRL. Following the deadline, PCCs remain free to register the right, where it exists, until the land has next been sold for valuable consideration. Only at that point can land be purchased free of the liability once and for all, assuming that no notice of the right has been entered in the meantime.
Where land has been purchased for valuable consideration after 12 October 2013 and where there is no entry on the Register, we will no longer search and insure.
In all other dealings with land, we will continue to commission a search and obtain insurance in appropriate cases. These include:
- On a mortgage or re-finance
- Any acquisition where the land has not changed ownership since 12 October 2013
- Leasehold transactions
- All dealings with unregistered land.
Something to think about
If you own property and do not have CRL insurance, consider searching and insuring now, even if you do not have current plans for the property. If a proactive PCC decides to register (which it can do at any time until the land is sold), you may then find it impossible to get insurance or only at a much higher premium and on unfavourable terms. Portfolio insurance is available and we expect premiums to reduce significantly going forward.