What is a Chancel?

The Chancel is the bit of the church near to the alter, which houses the clergy and the choir. When Henry VIII disbanded the monasteries and sold off their land, the liability to repair the chancel remained with that land and passed to the purchasers of that land. As land was sold off in parts, each part became equally responsible for the cost of repairs, which means that the Church only needs to find one owner and whack them with the bill.

But is this really a problem?

Well yes! The Wallbanks found themelves in the unfortunate position of receiving a visit from a vicar. He didn’t pop around for tea and scones, he brought a bill for just shy of £200,000 and asked the Wallbanks to cough up. The Wallbanks were clearly stunned, the church was not even their local place of worship. They couldn’t even see it, as it was over 100 miles away. Rather unsurprisingly, they refused to pay up. The Wallbanks took the case all the way to the House of Lords, in the process clocking up a further £200,000 in legal costs. Unfortunately, they lost and were forced to sell their home. However, as they handed down their judgment, the Lords were somewhat sympathetic to the Wallbanks and urged the Government to do something about it. Unusually, the Government listened & have pressed to improve the position for land owners.

What now?

With effect from 13 October 2013, purchasers of property in England & Wales will only be liable for chancel repair costs, if the obligation to contribute towards those costs has been registered at the Land Registry. We are therefore expecting a surge of registrations at the Land Registry as Parochial Church Council’s register their interest before the deadline of 12 October. Only purchasers will be protected post 12 October 2013. The Church Commissioners can still bring a claim against your property if you purchased before that date, and the potential liability will only be lost once the Property is sold.

But my property is unregistered land?

If your property is unregistered, then the Church will need to protect its right to demand payment for contributions to chancel repair by lodging a caution against first registration. Cautions can be registered at any time & can still be registered after 12 October 2013, but only if there hasn’t been a change in the ownership since then. A conveyance of unregistered land will trigger compulsory registration, if a caution has not been registered then, the purchaser will take free of any liability to repair.