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Chancel Repair Liability - Q&A

What is chancel repair liability?

Some landowners have a duty to pay for repairs to the chancel of their parish church. The duty generally dates from not long after the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, when swathes of land were transferred into lay ownership. The liability to repair attaches to the land and it falls to the owner of the land to pay when repairs or maintenance work is needed. The parochial church council (PCC) is responsible for enforcing the liability.

Why all the interest now?

Until now the liability for chancel repairs has been an ‘overriding interest’ i.e. legally binding even where there is no caution lodged against the land or note against the registered title that mentions it.

Just over ten years ago the Land Registration Act 2002 was passed. As part of a general drive to reduce the number of binding interests not on the register, a deadline of midnight on 12 October 2013 was imposed for some of those interests. People or bodies with the benefit of long-standing (and archaic) rights like manorial rights and the benefit of a chancel repair liability have until then to get their interest noted against registered titles or to lodge a caution against unregistered land. Unless they do, their ‘overriding interests’ lose their automatic protection. So, for example, when registered land is sold on to another person, that other person will take free from the interest in question.  

In a nutshell, if a chancel repair liability is registered before 13 October all future owners of the affected land will be liable for chancel repair costs. We know that PCCs are now taking action to protect their interests.

Is there anything I can do to protect my position?

(a)   Insurance. If you have not received any notification that your land is subject to chancel repair liability, and a review of your deeds does not reveal mention of it, you should be able to take out insurance against that eventuality. We are securing insurance quotes for clients and finding that the sums involved are not prohibitive. Cover is highly unlikely to be available once there has been a formal notification about your liability.

(b) Voluntary First Registration. From recent exchanges with the Land Registry we understand that if your land is unregistered and you register it after 12 October 2013 you will hold it free from any un-noted or unregistered liability for chancel repairs which exists in relation to the property.

Can I challenge the Church if they try to ‘register’ a liability notice against my land?

In some circumstances it may be worth challenging the registration of a notice (particularly if it is unilateral), or applying to have a caution removed. It depends on the circumstances. Please get in touch with us for advice.

If I have a liability can the Church make me pay the whole amount due even though others also have liability?

The liability to pay is several (although sometimes the PCC will have done an apportionment among different areas or blocks of land). So, yes, you could be approached to pay for all of the repairs for which you and others are liable. You would then have to seek a contribution from the others.