December 1, 2020

What is Chancel Repair Liability?

What is chancel repair liability?

As property solicitors and in particular commercial property solicitors the issue of chancel repair liability is raised regularly. We often get asked "what is it about?" or "why does it concern me?". It can come up on purchases, new leases and even the negotiations on tenants taking existing leases.

The law on chancel repair liability is an ancient interest derived from when the rector of the church could fund repairs to the chancel, i.e. the space around the alter at the end of the church building, from the income derived from "rectoral land" surrounding the church. 

This seems simple, but …. the landscape has now changed significantly (and in some cases the rectoral land has been transferred multiple times and sub divided etc.).

Unfortunately, this means that the rights for the church still remains on the land once called rectoral land, despite the fact that the land is now a shop, house or any other residential or commercial building.

The basic principle is that the parochial church councils can still require owner(s) of properties/land within the boundary of what was once the rectoral land to fund the repairs of the chancel of the local church.

As you can imagine this has been a major worry for many purchasers of land and buildings and this worry isn't helped by the fact that during the legal process it is extremely hard to correctly identify the extent of the liability or whether or not conclusively any liability still exists.

How much could I have to pay?

There is no set limit of the amount of liability as it is linked to the cost of the repairs of the chancel and the size of the church. In a previous case the "lay rectors" were ordered to pay £95,000.00 towards the repairs and £140,000.00 in legal costs. There is also the unpredictability to consider (linked to when repairs are actually required) and the fact that the liability is joint with all others in the rectoral land, but also several, which means that the owners of the smallest area of affected land can be asked to meet the cost even if this is disproportionate.

What can be done?

The law changed in 2002 to try and help protect purchasers of land and buildings within potential rectoral land by requiring the church to protect the right by registration of Land Registry notice or caution against all the land affected.

It is the job of the buyer's solicitor to check if there is a notice or caution registered against the land/building being bought and then to check when it was last transferred for value. If there is no notice/caution and there has been a transfer for value after the 13th October 2013 (this being the relevant deadline) the buyer will acquire the land/building free from any liability.

The above goes some way to help buyers but if the land is unregistered or there hasn't been a transfer for value after the 13th October 2013 the buyer may wish to consider insurance against the risk of potential liability. Insurance is often a more viable alternative to an investigation into the potential liability which could be costly and unfruitful.

We would be more than happy to discuss this with you in more detail. Please do not hesitate to contact our property solicitors on this or any of our other commercial property services.