On Sunday 13 October 2013, a little piece of history will finally have come to an end when chancel repair liability ceases to automatically bind purchasers of affected land as an ‘overriding interest’ under the Land Registration Act 2002.

Chancel repair liability dates back to the times of Henry VIII.  Prior to the reformation, a rector was responsible for the upkeep of the chancel whilst the rest of the church was the responsibility of the parish.  When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and sold the land, the liability for the repair of the chancel passed with that land, no matter how that land was subsequently sold or divided. In recent years, most property purchasers have done a search with a commercial provider and then take out relatively cheap insurance to protect against any liability discovered.

The changes that will come into force on 13 October mean that liability for chancel repairs will only bind future owners if the liability is registered against a property. This puts the onus on parish councils to establish whether there is any liability and whether to register such liability or run the risk of losing the benefit (and cash).  What the changes do not mean is that after 12 October 2013, chancel repair liability will fall away.  It will only fall away after a property is sold for valuable consideration and the liability has not been registered.  Until that sale, parish councils can still protect their right to collect chancel repair costs.

You may ask what happens if a chancel repair liability is recorded on the title? Initial indicators from some insurers are that they may still be willing to offer insurance against any potential liability although premiums are expected to be higher as a result of the apparent level of awareness of the right to recover.

It is not often, in modern times, that property law forms part of a moral maze in which the interests of private ownership are pitted against historic rights and cash calls to preserve the fabric of expensive, historical buildings. In general it seems that the Church has not readily sought to protect its rights.  Perhaps it recognises that the problem of funding church repairs stems not from the practicalities of modern land law but from the prevailing attitudes of modern society.