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Conveyancing Guide - Chancel Repair Liability

There are steps you can take to protect the property you are buying and/or selling.
What is Chancel Repair liability?+

A chancel repair liability is the requirement for an owner of land to pay for the repair of the chancel (the part of the church containing the altar and the choir) of an Anglican parish church.

Its origins are in historic law. Local religious leaders were given land and had the right to collect payments from tenants deemed to live within their parish. You do not have to live next door to a church for your home to fall within the applicable area, either. The old law states that community members must pay for the upkeep of the part of the church around the altar. A parochial church council, referred to as a PCC, is often responsible for all other parts of the building.

In the past, this issue has taken people by surprise, particularly when they have not checked whether they are liable during the purchase of the property. But it is something to consider carefully. Past cases have seen homeowners forced to pay hundreds of thousands towards such repairs.

So how do we know if there is a liability?+

Sometimes liability for Chancel repairs is clearly evident from the title deeds, but liability can attach to land even though there is no evidence of the liability in the title documentation. What can land owners do to protect themselves? In reality there is no satisfactory solution. It is possible to carry out a search to establish the risk of liability. However, the search does no more than seek to establish the risk of liability – it is not conclusive either way. If the search indicates that there is a possible risk, further investigation can be made, but this can be expensive particularly when it comes to insuring a known risk. An alternative is to take out insurance at a relatively modest cost without doing a search.

Because the situation was so unsatisfactory, the Government has imposed an obligation on Church Authorities, where they consider they have the right to seek a contribution from a land owner, to register that right against the land owner’s title by midnight on 12th October 2013. From then on, if there is no indication on the property’s registers of title indicating that there is a liability for Chancel repairs a purchaser of the property will not be at risk. End of the story? Afraid not! Existing land owners are still at risk because the liability only falls away at the point of a registration after the 12th October 2013. Anyone who acquired property before that date could still find themselves at risk of chancel repair liability. The 12th October 2013 is, therefore, by no means a date which heralds the end of Chancel Repair liability.

I'm buying - so how do I make sure I am protected?+

When we receive the title deeds for the property you are buying we will review these to check whether;

  1. a transfer/registration of the property has taken place since 12th October 2013;
  2. a liability has been noted by the church.

If a transfer has not taken place since 12th October 2013, and a liability has been noted on the deeds, we will notify you of this immediately. We will also ask the seller whether they had previously bought insurance prior to the note on the deeds and if the benefit of any insurance would pass to you on completion so you can decide how you wish to proceed.

If there is no note on the deeds, we will ask the seller to confirm whether they have received any notification from the church that it intends to do so.   If no notification has been made to the seller, we will purchase an insurance policy at the time of exchange.  We do this because after exchange of contracts you will be legally committed to the purchase. If the church puts a note on the deeds or raises an intention to do so after exchange of contracts, but before registration takes place at the Land Registry, you will be contractually obliged to take ownership of the property together with any chancel repair liability. In these circumstances it would be extremely difficult to purchase insurance and/or the premium would be extremely high because at that stage the liability for repair would be a known/actual risk. 

If the church fails to put a note on the deeds before your purchase is registered with the Land Registry, then it will be prevented from doing so by virtue of the changes introduced at midnight on 12th October 2013.

I am selling –  so how do I make sure I am protected?+

If you bought your property after 12th October 2013 then no further action is required.

If you bought your property before 12th October 2013, then if you have received notification from the church of its intention to put a note on the deeds you must inform us so we can advise you further. You are also under an obligation to let your buyer know about this.

If you bought your property before 12th October 2013, and you have not received notification from the church of its intention to put a note on the deeds, then we advise you to purchase an insurance policy to protect you and any future owners. This is designed to provide protection up until the sale has completed and the buyer’s solicitor has registered their client(s) as the new owner at the Land Registry. If you proceed without a policy then there is a risk that the church could put a note on the deeds before exchange of contracts. If this happened your buyer may decide to pull out of the transaction because they could be concerned about the uninsured chancel repair liability. Further, if they are buying with a mortgage, the lender may withdraw their mortgage offer upon receipt of this information because the presence of chancel repair could affect the value of their security and future salability.    If you would like us to obtain a policy for you, please contact the Conveyancer dealing with your transaction.  The policy premium is £25 inclusive of IPT.  Please note that we will also charge an additional fee of £75 + VAT to cover our administration charges for arranging the policy for you.  If we do not hear from you, a policy will not be obtained on the property you are selling and you will proceed at your own risk.

If you already have a policy of insurance (taken at the time or since your purchase), please let us have a copy so that we can check whether it covers you and future owners. Some policies do not pass with the property (to include future owners) therefore it is important that you provide us with this information as soon as possible so we can advise whether a further policy should be obtained.

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