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Chancel Liability - Is there still a risk?

When acting for a mortgage lender, Conveyancers are required to carry out all usual and necessary searches. At Moore & Tibbits, to enable us to provide a complete and comprehensive service, we would advise all of our clients to have searches carried out, even when they are cash purchasers. Whilst most people who have bought a property will be familiar with the more usual searches, such as the Local Authority Search, Water and Drainage Search and Environmental Search, there is a little more confusion surrounding the Chancel Search, which has received national coverage over recent months.

Parochial Church Councils have the right to collect money from property owners of land which have a chancel repair liability in order to pay for the repair of the parish church chancel. People may unknowingly own land that was once rectorial and they may have inherited a responsibility to fund repairs to the chancel of their local medieval church.  Although claims have historically been rare, they are becoming more common and it is now considered essential to carry out a Chancel Search on behalf of a client, at the start of a conveyancing transaction and if necessary to obtain insurance.

One of the difficulties with a chancel liability is that liability for chancel repair does not always show on the title deeds of a house and the property does not need to be located near a church. Of the 15000 parishes, it is thought that around 5000 are at risk of chancel liability.  There was a deadline of 12 October 2013 for churches to register their interest in an area or lose their right to claim.   However, the potential liability still exists for those property owners who have not sold their property since 12 October 2013. Even if a chancel repair liability is not registered on the title of a property it does not mean that a property is not affected, as churches are still able to claim that the risk still exists until such time as the property changes ownership for value (where some form of consideration has been paid, such as money), whereupon the church’s ability to register a claim ends.  In contrast, where a property is transferred without value, ie as a gift, inherited or as a result of bankruptcy, the potential liability continues.  The church notes its interest on the title deeds at the land registry by registering a unilateral notice, which does not require the owner’s consent.

To ensure we protect our clients and until the law changes, we will continue to obtain chancel repair indemnity insurance.

If you have a query regarding chancel liability or would like to discuss any element of conveyancing, please contact our team today for advice on 01926 491181

By Claire Houghton


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