Chancel Repairs Liability

Chancel repairs liability goes as far back as the medieval era. Even though large acres of land, which were previously owned by the church, have been divided and sold to different land owners, there is still the prospective for the owners of the land built on previously own land by the church, to have an obligation to pay for the maintenance of the church’s chancel.

In 2003, there was a highly publicised court case – Aston Cantlow v Wallbank which drew  the liability of chancel upkeep to the public eye. This case, the defendants chose to dispute their liability in relation to chancel repairs and were ordered to around £200,000.00 towards the repair of a church chancel. Furthermore, the defendants were ordered to pay approximately £250,000.00 relating to the legal expenses incurred by the church.

Following this case, the government has imposed an order in respect of registration of the church’s interest by 13/10/2013. This new proposal means that until 13/10/2013, chancel repair liability will remain and affect existing and new owners of land even if the liability has not been registered.

However, if a church fails to register its interest in chancel repair by 13/10/2013 then the liability will be extinguished completely. A current owner will only remain liable until the land has been sold. Only new owners will take the land with no liability if the church has not registered its interest by 13/10/2013.

How to ensure you commit to chancel repair liability:

- Pay for a chancel liability search. These cost around £18.00. The search will establish whether your property is within a historical boundary of the church. It will also reveal whether that land will continue to have a potential chance repair liability.
- A full search can be conducted in person at the National Archives. This search will expose whether the property has an apportionment of liability attached to it. The full search is more expensive and costs over £100.00. However, to avoid a potential legal claim as above, it is worth checking before purchasing a property.
- Some of the search results may not be full and conclusive due to the incomplete nature of church records. If it appears that the result is inconclusive, then insurance may well be required.
- Therefore, if your search results come back inconclusive, you should arrange insurance. This is usually the most practical solution as it protects you from potential liability which could cost thousands.
- The final option is to do nothing. However, if you decide to take this action, then any current or future risk of liability will be borne by you and our firm will not accept any liability.

Seatons can arrange an indemnity policy for insurance to cover you if you receive inconclusive results from your search. Depending on your circumstances, our cost for obtaining insurance (including the premium) is between £17.50 to £70.00. Please email gemma@seatons.co.uk or call us on 01536 276300 with your details for a more precise figure.