Chancel repair liability - what is it?

Chancel repair liability is a rare financial liability on the owners of some land or property in England and Wales under which they may be required to pay for repairs to the chancel of their parish church.

The historic liability originally affected land owned by rectors and passed to laymen when land was sold following the dissolution of the monasteries.

How can I tell if my property is liable?

With great difficulty! The liability may not have been recorded; no diocese will have a complete register of parishes where rectors were responsible for chancel repairs and there has never been any requirement for new landowners to be notified of the liability when land changed hands. The land may not even be near the church. Any land in a parish with a medieval church (whether in a town or in a rural location) could carry this liability.

The only way of finding out is to ask the Diocesan Registrar to carry out an extensive search of diocesan records and/or to undertake a personal search at the National Archive at Kew. There are also companies that specialise in chancel repair searches. These show if the property has a potential risk or not. They do not, however, give a definitive answer if there is liability because of the lack of full records.  If a Chancel Check search shows a potential risk of repair liability, insurance can be purchased to protect a property against the risk of having to pay towards chancel repairs.

Am I at risk?

Because the liability attaches to the land itself, not individual buildings, it is possible that any land acquired or leased may be affected land.

Chancel repair liability is so old – is it really still relevant?

In 2003 the House of Lords ordered a landowner to pay a repair bill of around £200,000 plus substantial legal costs when they contested the liability.  Chancel repair liability may still be an expensive burden.

Chancel repair liability has always been an overriding interest, so the liability ‘sticks’ to the burdened land whether or not the liability is registered at Land Registry.

The Land Registration Act 2002 sought to remove the concept of overriding interests in relation to chancel repair liability.  Parish Councils were given 10 years to determine and register which land was affected.  An increase in notices on the registers of land we have acquired for our clients since 2003 is not yet evident.

What happens after 13 October 2013?

From 13 October 2013, the right to enforce chancel repair liability will only be capable of protection by registration of a notice against the property title at the Land Registry. The liability will no longer constitute an overriding interest and means that a buyer purchasing registered land or property for value after 13 October 2013 will take free of the liability unless it is protected by such a notice.

Where a notice or caution has been registered the right to claim chancel repair costs from a property owner will permanently affect the land.

The practical effect of this is that a chancel search will not be required after 13 October 2013 for purchases of registered land because if there is any liability to pay towards chancel repairs, it will be shown on the register.

However, land acquired before 13 October 2013 will continue to be bound by chancel repair liability indefinitely.