You may be responsible for your local church repairs!

How often do you go to church? Each visit may be more expensive than you thought! Quick Move Now takes a look at an old law that could impact any one of us.

There are many ancient laws still in existence in Britain today. Apparently pregnant women caught short in the street are allowed to use a policeman’s helmet to relieve themselves in and taxi drivers must carry around a bale of hay to feed their no longer needed horses!

Many of these laws are out of date and would clearly never hold up in a court of law today. But one that has is ‘chancel repair liability’ and it could affect thousands of homes up and down the country – meaning that they are responsible for their local church repairs.

The Chancelcheck search was, until recently, a key point for your conveyancer to investigate when you were purchasing a property or a piece of land.

Stephen Carew, a senior property lawyer at Parrott & Coales solicitors, says;

Chancel repair liability, this means that homeowners could be liable for the costs of maintaining the chancel of the local church.

It was one of those ancient laws that nobody had really heard of until it was brought starkly into public knowledge in 2003. Andrew and Gail Wallbank were forced to sell the family home after losing a lengthy battle with the local church over whether their house carried chancel repair liability – and ultimately it did.

They had to find more than £100,000 to repair the local church – and more than that again to foot the legal bill. And, surprisingly, they had Henry VIII to thank for their troubles.

The idea of landowners paying for the upkeep of the local church dates back hundreds of years and liability was never repealed. Insurance companies obviously flocked to insure anyone buying a house that had shown up even a slight chance of liability after the Wallbank case.

Just a few months ago this ancient law was finally dealt a very up-to-date blow, when chancel repair liability ceased to be, in legal speak, an ‘overriding interest’ – which basically means the church must now register their interest in the property at the Land Registry, rather than just presenting them with a hefty bill out of the blue.

Stephen says;

This is good news! From a purchaser’s point of view, it means there is much less of a problem now, provided your solicitor checks the Land Registry entries to ensure that a note of chancel repair liability has not been registered on the title. If it has, then it is a major problem and I would always advise a client not to proceed with the sale. If they really had their heart set on the property, they could try to get insurance to cover the risk, but I don’t think you would be able to get that insurance now. You could also renegotiate the price to mitigate any possible future fees, but there is no limit to the liability, so you could, theoretically, end up with a very significant bill.

Stephen, who has been a property lawyer for 16 years, added that the parochial church councils (PCC) still have the ability to register an interest in any property which has not been sold since 13 October 2013 too and that liability will then attach itself to the land.

If you have lived in your home since before the October deadline date and are concerned about the risk of chancel repair liability then Stephen advises that you investigate indemnity insurance.

This will cover you in the event that the PCC decides to come knocking with a bill. If the church has not entered its note of interest at the Land Registry, then the risk will disappear when you the property is sold.

A transfer of a property, such as through a will, however, does not negate the risk of the PCC being able to register its interest.

As well as having some ‘interesting’ laws, ancient parish boundaries could also be incredibly varied, so just because your home is not next door to the church, does not mean you are completely in the clear when it comes to chancel repair liability either.

A recent freedom of information request revealed that the PCC has registered an interest in more than 12,000 homes or plots of land.

So although it seems that the chances of any new home presenting you with a hefty bill for the upkeep of the parish church are now pretty slim, it is still worth ensuring your conveyancer carries out a Land Registry priority search and checks for chancel repair liability. Otherwise your dream home could turn into a very expensive

This content was written by Quick Move Now
Published on 6th March 2014
Last updated on 19th April 2017

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