What is Chancel Repair Liability?
Chancel Repair Liability is effectively the Church of England’s right to charge the cost of repairing the chancel of the Parish Church to residents or owners of property within the parish.
As property Lawyers we can make a Chancel Repair Search, effectively a cheap screening search which would highlight whether the property is located within a historical parish boundary and whether there might be any liability.
So how did this search come about.
Mr and Mrs Wallbank owned a beautiful property in Glebe Lane Warwickshire within the Parish of St John the Baptist Church in Aston Cantlow, Warwickshire. When the Church needed work carried out on it, which amounted to approximately £95,000, The Parochial Church Council relied upon an ancient law, with medieval origins, that allowed them to recover the costs of any repairs from their parishioners living on what was once Rectorial land.
Mr and Mrs Wallbank took the matter through the Courts right up to the House of Lords. By this time the Costs had increased to over £200,000. The House of Lords found in favour of the Church and Mr and Mrs Wallbank were required to pay £186,969 plus vat on some, but not all, of the items in the repairs schedule claimed by the Church.
The Court of Appeal agreed that Mr and Mrs Wallbank must pay as the claim by the Court did not contravene the Human Rights Act 1998 or breach the European Convention on Human Rights.
As the liability relies upon its ancient origins, the searches rely upon the records held by the Public Records Office and any registers of Lay Rectors which may be held by the various Diocesan Registers. Sometimes the information which is available is difficult to understand, especially where the Rectorial Land is not necessarily situated in close proximity to a Church and can be overlooked in areas which were once early rural communities and which are now incorporated into towns and villages due to the urban expansion.
There is no absolute way to cover this difficulty. As Property Lawyers we are then left to advise our Clients of the potential risk. Quite often we recommend a Chancel Repair Search and insurance taken out against any potential risk. Unfortunately, most of the Indemnity Policies all have limitations as to cover and may be restricted as to the time which the risk is covered.
There is only limited ways in which we will be able to go forward on such potential risks and until the Government reform the Law and an alternative means is found to fund the historic Church buildings, as Property Lawyers we are left with the unsatisfactory method of carrying out Chancel Searches on virtually every property on behalf of all Purchasers and Lenders for whom we are instructed to act and to further recommend that an Indemnity Policy is taken out where potential risks are revealed.
Of course, another point to consider is that a property owner may not even be aware that the property in which he currently live has a potential liability. Many owners have lived in their property for many years, or purchased before the land mark case involving Mr and Mrs Wallbank came to Court. The Church had until October 2013 to register this potential liability which could potentially affect the value and marketability of the property.
We are not aware of many Churches that did register their rights under this ancient right.
The Land Registry have taken the stance that until there is Case Law to challenge any registered interest they will not comment on any entries or potential liabilities that may still be available for Churches to claim.
Home owners may still want to consider a Chancel Repair Liability Policy which covers diminution in value, which some do, to cover them should this unfortunate event occur.