News & Insights // Maintenance of your local church

You may not be a regular church attender.

Indeed the percentage of the adult population on Church of England rolls is a mere 3.1%.

How would you feel to receive a demand for a contribution towards the repair of your local parish church?

The answer is that you would probably be fairly relaxed if it was a request for a voluntary contribution – and fairly perplexed and dismayed if it was in the form of a demand.

The relevant liability is for chancel repair.

It goes back to the dissolution of the monasteries, but researching the original records is difficult and frequently inconclusive.
It would appear that about one third of the 15,000 parish churches in England or Wales are affected and they currently operate as overriding interests under the s.70(1)(c), Land Registry Act 2002.

However, their status as such will only continue until 12th October 2013. How has this confusion arisen?

Essentially as a result of the Human Rights Act 1998.

The decision of the House of Lords in Aston CantlowPCC v Wallbank (2004)1AC 546 reversed the Court of Appeal by holding that the enforcement by a Parochial Church Council of the liability of a lay rector to repair the chancel of a church did not contravene the Human Rights legislation.

As a result, the defendants who owned a mere 52 acres of agricultural land were held liable to the costs of repairing the church chancel which amounted to £95,260 – in addition to very considerable legal costs!

In the light of this potential liability, what is the current conveyancing practice to safeguard the property purchaser?

There are about 1.2 million conveyancing transactions each year, and the most obvious answer is thought to be a search facility with an organization known as ChancelCheck who offer a search facility for £11.75 (incl VAT).

But because of the lack of original records, very many searches do not provide a conclusive answer so the next step is to consider insurance which for the purchaser and mortgagee is at a cost of £59.88 but to cover successors in title as well, the cost rises to £205.
And yet this cover is still limited in effect since, for example, the cover does not extend to any loss in the value of the policyholder’s property.

After October 2013, chancel repair liability will still be enforceable against any freehold title which is unregistered.
The right to register the liability will not affect the status of the chancel repair obligation, but there will be no right to enforce this until a caution is registered.

And in accordance with s.29, LRA 2002, the liability cannot be enforced against a purchaser for value.

So between now and 2013, there is likely to be something of a rush by church bodies to arrange for the registration of the liability.
What is the proper conveyancing practice in the light of these developments and the increasing cost of insurance cover?

Local conveyancing solicitors will be able to develop a picture of the incidence of chancel repair liabilities in a particular area but, in the absence of local knowledge, there is little alternative to the search – which will very rarely indicate that there is no liability BUT merely that the possibility of liability cannot be excluded.

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