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What is chancel repair liability?

author: Sarah Beresford

By Sarah Beresford

There have been calls to abolish Chancel repair liability - but it remains. Roughly 500,000 properties in England and Wales could find themselves with hefty chancel repair bills.

If your local parish has a church that dates back to 1536, then there’s a possibility you could be responsible for chancel repairs. A chancel repair liability search will tell you if you’re liable.

What is chancel repair?

Chancel repair is a legal obligation on some property owners to pay for any repairs needed on the chancel of a church. The chancel is the part of a church, usually at the eastern end, that houses the altar and the choir.

It’s an ancient law that dates back to the era of Henry VIII when some landowners were expected to pay for or at least contribute to the repair of the chancel. There have been calls for it to be axed but it still affects people today, as a couple with a property in Warwickshire found out in 2003. They were presented with a £100,000 chancel repair bill by the local church, and despite a lengthy legal battle, ended up having to sell their home to pay the chancel repair bill and their legal fees.

How can chancel repair affect my property?

If you own a property located in a parish with a church and built before 1536, there's a possibility you could be liable for chancel repair. As a result of the court case in Warwickshire, churches were obliged to record interest on any property before 12th October 2013 so that owners and prospective buyers would get a forewarning about any liability.

If the church has recorded interest on your property, this could have the effect of devaluing your property and or making it hard to sell. Even if the church didn't record any interest before they were obliged to do so, you could still end up liable for chancel repair in certain circumstances.

It’s thought that around half a million homes across England and Wales are subject to chancel repair. If you're a leaseholder, you should check your lease because the freeholder can pass the liability to you.

How do I know if my property is affected?

It might say on the deeds of the property, but this isn't always the case - especially if the deeds were drawn up before 12th October 2013. If you purchased the property after 12th October 2013 and there was no interest recorded at the time, then it's unlikely you'll be affected. However, it's still worth checking, just in case!

To find out, you can search the National Archives, but they may not hold all the data. And don't rely on asking your neighbours, as not all properties in the same parish are necessarily liable. Your neighbour might be liable for chancel repair when you’re not, and vice versa.

The best way to be sure is to ask a solicitor to do what’s known as a “chancel repair liability search”. You can find a solicitor who specialises in property matters (a conveyancer) through the Council for Licensed Conveyancers. Or you can request a search online through Searches UK.

Chancel repair liability searches cost around £20 and are returned quickly due to their importance - usually within 24 hours.

How do I pay chancel repair?

If you have to pay a chancel repair bill, you will have to make the payment to the local parish church.

Should I get chancel repair liability insurance?

If you’re buying a property that could be liable for chancel repair, then it’s worth thinking about chancel repair liability insurance. If the local church hasn't already recorded interest on your property, it doesn’t mean it won’t in the future. So, if there isn’t an interest recorded, now is the time to get the insurance. Without a recorded interest, the cost will be low - starting at £15.95, and it's a one-off payment.

Unfortunately, if there's a recorded interest on your property, then the insurance will cost a lot more, but it will still be cheaper than a chancel repair bill.

Look at how much you can expect to spend on solicitor’s fees when buying a house.

Disclaimer: All information and links are correct at the time of publishing.

author: Sarah Beresford

By Sarah Beresford

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