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We are in the process of selling our 1930s house in south-west London. Our purchaser's solicitor requested a chancel repair liability report, which indicates that our property is within the historical boundary of a parish that continues to have a potential liability. The report does not mention to which church or parish it refers, and the liability was not apparent when we bought the house five years ago.

Coincidentally, the company that discovered the liability also sells insurance to protect against the possibility of chancel repair costs and our buyer would like us to pay this. Is this a genuine risk or is it a way for a company to make money?

Lorna Vestey writes: It is certainly good business for the company, and I would demand more detail - it is only the ownership of certain land within such parishes that may carry a liability. However, I might also want the insurance, although who should pay for it is another matter.

Chancel repair sounds medieval and in origin it is. Different types of liability, some dating from before 1189, benefited more than 5,000 pre-Reformation churches. Many are linked to the right of the Church to collect tithes.

The 1925 Land Registration Act confirmed such liabilities as "over-riding interests", and the 1932 Chancel Repairs Act maintained the liability attached to "rectorial" land for the repair of parish churches, whereby non-clergy owners of certain land that once belonged to a rectory became lay rectors and could be charged with the old rectorial responsibility for church repair.

In June 2003, the House of Lords overturned a Court of Appeal decision and one unfortunate couple who owned a farm containing a rectorial field had to pay a £95,000 repair bill for their local parish church.

It is because of this case that purchasers' solicitors have started investigating liabilities, many long forgotten, as have parish councils, which have an obligation to maximise their income (www.churchlaw.co.uk).

To tidy things up, the Government made a Transitional Provisions Order, which took effect in October 2003. This preserves the status of chancel repair liability for 10 years. So the liability will bind successive owners of a property until 2013, even if it is not entered in a register kept by the Land Registry. After that, the liability will only bind new owners of registered land if it is protected by such an entry.

Lorna Vestey is a former partner of a blue-chip London estate agency.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005

Commentary

Ms Vestey did not appear to have full information on ChancelCheck® when this advice was granted. The search referred to, ChancelCheck® , is the only economic and timely option which conveyancers have in this area.

Without an insured solution the search would leave potential purchasers with an indication of a very real potential issue but no viable solution on how to manage the risk which had been highlighted.

This area will, doubtless, see a number of cases over the next few years, including those of conveyancers' negligence where they fail to consider chancel repair liability for property which is subsequently registered.