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Chancel repair liability - still an issue

Purchasers of properties built on church land, or with names like ‘Glebe House, or ‘Tithe Barn’, could still find a nasty surprise in the small print of their title deeds, which could result in them having to foot the bill for a portion of the cost of repairs to the local church.

This warning comes from commercial agent Prop-Search which says although there was a deadline of 12 October 2013 for churches to register their interest in an area or lose their right to claim - under the Chancels Repair Act - the potential liability still exists for those property owners who have not sold their property since 12 October 2013.  Even if a chancel repair liability is not registered on the title of a property it does not necessarily means that a property is not affected.

Simon Toseland, a Director at Prop-Search, says: “The history of chancel repair dates back to the 12th century and is linked to the old right to collect tithes.  Although tithe liability has ceased and much of the land previously owned by the Church of England has been acquired by private individuals, the liability for repair to the parish church can remain attached to the owners of adjacent land and properties - both residential and commercial.”

Churches who registered their interest before 12 October 2013 have a right to claim against the affected property owner.  However, there have been recent instances where churches have backed down from registering claims against properties after facing opposition to their plans to make residents pay for church repairs.  Churches which did not register by this date are still able to claim until the property changes ownership, at which point the church’s ability to register their claim will end.

Since 12 October 2013, where a property is transferred and no money changed hands - such as a property transferred as a gift or an inheritance - the new owner of the property may still take the land subject to the chancel repair liability even if the liability is not protected by notice on the Land Registry title.  In contrast, a transfer of a property for value - where some form of consideration has been paid - the new owner would take the property free from any chancel repair liability unless the liability is already protected by notice on the property’s Land Registry title.

Simon adds: “A chancel repair liability can be a costly affair and is highlighted by a high profile legal case.  A couple who had inherited a property in Warwickshire disputed a £95,000 bill which had been presented to them by their local parish church council for the cost of repairs to their church.  After a protracted legal battle, the case ended up in the House of Lords and the couple found themselves liable for a bill for repairs, costs and their legal fees reportedly totalling about £500,000”

Anyone considering purchasing land or property that may once have been owned by the church, or which contains obvious ecclesiastical references in its address, should pay particular attention to the property’s deeds, as they may find that there is an antiquated covenant which requires them to contribute towards the cost of the maintenance of the local church.  They should give clear instructions to their solicitor to undertake a specific search when purchasing a property which could be at risk.

Further information or advice can be obtained from Prop-Search - Tel: 01933 223300 / 01604 492000 or its website:

Thursday, September 11, 2014