Could you still be liable to pay for repairs to your local church?

9th January 2014

Home owners with a house name such as Church View or Parsons Cottage may have been breathing a sigh of relief after 13th October 2013, as it was the last date for parochial church councils to identify and register their interest on any land with chancel repair liability to bind future purchasers.

However, head of residential conveyancing at Ansons Solicitors, Julie Tomasik advises caution; “even if a chancel repair liability was not registered by midnight on the 12th October 2013 the liability could still be enforceable against the current owners of the land until they sell it”.

Chancel Repair liability falls on some land owners in England and Wales to fund repairs to the chancel of their local mediaeval-founded Church of England parish church or Church in Wales church. It can apply to any land in the parish, including industrial and agricultural which does not necessarily have to be adjacent to the church.

One of the most high profile recent incidents of this was in 2003, when Andrew and Gail Wallbank received a demand for almost £100,000 to fund repairs to the medieval church of Aston Cantlow, in Warwickshire. After a protracted legal battle, the law lords found in favour of the parochial church council, leaving the Wallbanks with a £350,000 bill including legal costs.

Following the Wallbank case, it has become best practice for lawyers acting for buyers to check whether the local parish, of which there are 15,000 in England and Wales, included an older rector’s church and therefore hold a potential chancel repair liability. If the search reveals a potential for liability, this is usually dealt with by taking out insurance.

Even after 13th October 2013, at any time up to completion of the first sale of a property a parochial church council can still jump in and register its interest. Indemnity insurance may still be only the way to offer some comfort to property owners who may not be considering selling their property, but would like the reassurance that the risk of any potential liability being revealed when they do sell, is covered.

Only when the property is sold, and the chancel repair liability is still not registered, will a buyer, without notice, be free from responsibility.

If you think you may be affected by chancel repair liability, you should take independent legal advice to clarify your position.

With teams of friendly and experienced conveyancing solicitors in Lichfield and Cannock, Ansons make moving home in Staffordshire as smooth as possible. 

For more information, please contact Julie Tomasik in the residential conveyancing team on 01543 267988 or email Ansons Solicitors has offices in Cannock and Lichfield, Staffordshire.