News & Insights // The Kent Messenger - Will The Church Be Collecting?

Worried about your house purchase? Wondering whether you need building regulations to knock through your living room? Or do you want to re-mortgage? In her monthly columns, solicitor Stephanie Power of TG Baynes answers your questions.

I have just received a quotation from a solicitor for buying a new home and it refers to a Chancel Repair Search. I have not heard of this before, is this usual?

Chancel Repair Searches have always existed, although have not necessarily been considered appropriate to all properties. The purpose of the search is to ascertain whether the property falls within the boundaries of a church which continues to impose Chancel Repair Liability. This is an ancient right benefiting the Church and applies even if the property has changed hands.

Not all churches are affected; the Church must be within the Church of England, date from the medieval era or earlier and must have a Vicar, not a Rector. If found to be the case, the owners of the property may be required to contribute to or meet the costs of repairing the Church. The search itself is quite specific and will determine if the Church has registered an entry against that particular property. It must be carried out in person at the Public Records Office and costs £100 plus VAT. Recent legislation requires the Church of England to register its Chancel interests at Land Registry prior to 2013. After this date, if the interest is not registered, it will cease to have effect. This, together with a recent case where homeowners were ordered to pay £95,000 towards the costs incurred by their local Church, has brought Chancel Searches to the forefront.

Owing to the increase in awareness, there are now different options available to buyers. Various websites and search agents have been established, which conduct initial searches at a significantly reduced cost. This will confirm if there is a potential liability and if so, they can offer the option to affect Indemnity Insurance or to carry out the full search at the Public Records Office. The insurance should provide you with cover in the event the Church made a claim against the property. Which option suits your needs will depend on individual circumstances.