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What Is Chancel Repair Liability?

The earliest known case of Chancel Repair Liability dates back to the 16th century, where Henvy VIII sold monasteries to willing buyers. The sale resulted in the transfer of the chancel’s repair responsibilities from the monks, to the new buyers. This repair responsibility extends to properties located far from the chancel but still within the church boundaries and is passed on from one generation to the other.

Chancel repair liability

This ancient land law has continued to affect property owners who are charged with high chancel repair bills. One such case is Aston Cantlow v Wallbank. The Wallbanks inherited the farm in 1990 and were issued a Chancel Repair Liability bill shortly after by St John the Baptist church, Warwickshire. The bill amounted to approximately $230,000. This bill caught them by surprise since they thought the old law was long gone. They challenged the matter and presented it in a court law. After about 18 years of a legal fight, the court found them liable. They were forced to pay for the repairs, which caused them to auction their house to cater to the bill.

It’s now more than a decade ago, but the Wallbank’s case leaves many property buyers wondering how to go about it to be on the safe side of the law. Chancel repair liability remains an issue among property buyers and owners in England and Wales who sometimes find it hard to understand it. Read on to find out more about this archaic law.

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What Is Chancel Repair Liability?

Chancel repair liability (CRL) is a law imposed on home or property owners in most parts of England and Wales, which requires them to pay repair costs to a church. The church may or may not be their parochial church. A chancel is an area around an altar in a church where the choir and the clergy sit. The law is centred around the property that lies in what was initially church land. It may extend to properties miles away from the church. This makes it hard to ascertain which property is affected and which one is not.

Churches do not often ask for payments, and therefore previous property owners may not be aware that the property has a chancel liability. The church only reaches out to people when it is facing rising repair costs amid dwindling resources. Due to the fact that it is hard for previous owners to ascertain the existence of a Chancel Repair Liability, it is advisable that during the conveyancing process, the property buyers with the help of their conveyancers should conduct a chancel liability search. If they are not sure of the results, the buyer should put in place a chancel repair insurance policy—this indemnity policy safeguards against unforeseen future financial loss from chancel repair claims. Parochial Church Council (PCC) is responsible for initiating the CRL claims.

October 2013 Amendments

Since many innocent homeowners continued to pay for chancel repairs, which they were not aware of during the purchase, the government decided to look into this law in favour of the buyers. Many people anticipated that this archaic law would be abolished. However, the government just made some slight adjustments to protect the homeowners.

On 13 October 2013, the government amended the law requiring church parishes to register notices of Chancel Repair Liability with the Land registry. The registered notices would give them the right to claim repairs even after a property is sold. The Land Registry places the notice issued by the church on the title of the property, and this makes it easy for buyers to identify a property that is subject to a CRL. Other than benefiting the buyers, this law also helps the church in retaining its claim rights for future purposes.

A church that did not register with the Land Registry at the said date did not lose its right to claim chancel repairs from the property owners. The right still holds but can be lost if the ownership of the unregistered property is transferred for a “valuable consideration.” The aspect of valuable consideration means that it is exchanged for money or something else that has value and not as a gift or part of an inheritance.

Property owners need to note that properties acquired after 13 October 2013 and not for a valuable consideration, can still fall at risk of getting a chancel repair claim. This is because the Land Registry continues to register new chancel claims from churches. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the property owner to object to the notice issued if the property is not subject to Chancel Repair Liability. Objecting to such notices and reaching out to the Land Registry to clear them out reduces delays and problems in case you want to sell your property in the future.

Generally, property owners will be liable to pay for CRL under the following circumstances:

  • If the church registers a notice for a property that is in the hands of the same individual who owned it before 13 October 2013
  • You acquired a liable property after 13 October 2013 but not for a valuable consideration
  • If the right to claim was already issued by the Land Registry and it reflects on the title of the property

With the idea about what CRL is and how it works, it is wise to look at some of the questions that property owners ask.

What Should I Do To Avoid Buying an Affected Property?

When you identify a property that you want to purchase, you should conduct an extensive search with the help of your solicitor. The search will help you determine whether the property is listed for a claim or not. Again, if you are not certain of the findings, you can mitigate this risk by taking a chancel repair insurance claim. The claim is mainly a one-off payment.

How Far Away From the Church Should My Property Be?

There is no specific limit when it comes to distance. Both next door property and those miles away from the church can equally be affected. It all depends on the ancient boundaries of the particular church. However, certain property names can give you a clue that you are within church boundaries; they include Glebe, Parsons, Rectory and Vicarage.

Will My Property Be the Only One Liable?

In most cases, the Chancel Repair Liability is usually “joint and several.” Here, one individual can pay for the claims on behalf of the others, as was the case with the Wallbanks. The Parochial Church Council chooses to execute the claims on any property owner of their choice. However, in extreme cases, the affected individual can obtain claim contributions from other liable owners. In most cases, this move does not succeed.

If I Acquire a Property Now, Will It Be Affected by Chancel Repair Liability in the Future?

Yes, you may find yourself responsible for CRL under the following circumstances:

  • The notice of the right to claim appears on the title of the property
  • You acquire a liable property without a valuable consideration, either a gift or as an inheritance
  • The church registers for a claim of an unregistered property that has been in your possession prior 13 October 2013

However, if you acquire a property now and pay for its full market value and no notice of the right to claim had been registered with the Land Registry by 13 October 2013, you will not be liable for CRL. Therefore, ensure that you get all the necessary details regarding the property during conveyancing.

What Should I Do To Protect My Property?

If you got your property at the full market value on or after 13 October 2013 and the title does not display any claim notice, you do not need to take any further actions. However, you should be alert since a church may try to issue a notice on your title through the Land Registry. If, by any chance, you get a Chancel Repair Liability claim, you should reach out to the Land Registry to show that the claim is not valid and have it removed.

Additionally, if you have a property that you received as a gift or inheritance and was subject to claims, you should be prepared to face a CRL either at present or in the future. Get an indemnity insurance policy that covers Chancel repair to mitigate the risk of financial loss. Besides, if the title of your property has notice of claim, you can also get an insurance policy to protect against the unforeseen risk. The amount of the policy varies depending on the type of property (commercial or residential), location, and the indemnity limit.

Conclusion

Chancel repair liability continues to be an issue affecting property buyers and owners in England and Wales. The church may claim it now or at a future date. If it doesn’t fall on you, it may affect your future generation or the buyers of your property. Sometimes it can sum up to a huge amount which can bring about negative financial implications on the affected party.

Therefore, ensure that you know the state of your property concerning Chancel Repair Liability and the amendments made on 13 October 2013. It is important to keep in mind that there lies a continuous risk of the CRL being imposed even if your property is not liable for chancel repair claims. In this case, the burden of validating that your property is not liable for the CRL claim lies in your hands. Conduct enough research during the conveyancing and insure your property against Chancel repair claims to reduce instances of financial loss.

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