Have you heard of chancel repair liability? It’s a law that goes back hundreds of years and charges homeowners in certain historical towns and villages for repairs carried out to church chancels.
What’s that got to do with buying a property today, we hear you ask? Well a lot actually, especially as it could end up costing you.
Chancel repair liability (CRL) is a very old law, but it’s still legally enforceable to homeowners of properties built on particular pieces of parish land. In medieval times, those who lived on land owned by the church were responsible for the upkeep of their local parish and had to contribute towards its maintenance.
This law is very much still in place today, and although some reports suggest it has been abolished, this isn’t the case. So, if you are property hunting, be sure to follow a few simple steps and avoid being stung by this surprise cost.
How chancel repairs could affect you
What is a chancel? It’s the area in a church that houses the altar and where the church choir sit.
Because many of the UK’s homes have been built on old parish land, as many as 5,200 pre-Reformation churches in England and Wales require owners of domestic properties to meet the repair costs of their parishes under the legislation. If you are house hunting in an area renowned for its rich history and old buildings, be aware that you might be liable to contribute towards the repair costs of the chancel in your local parish church.
But how do you find out if chancel repair liability is something that affects you?
Use a conveyancing solicitor
You can’t expect to know whether the home you’re considering buying is affected by this liability by simply looking at it. But just because you notice a parish church nearby, it doesn’t always mean you’ll be affected. That’s why it’s so important to speak with a conveyancing solicitor and ask them to conduct a thorough title and land search before you make an offer.
Your conveyancer can check what type of land the property is built on, and if it’s liable for chancel repairs. They’ll conduct a full search at the National Archives and Land Registry to find out whether the house you’re interested in is affected so you can decide whether to proceed with an offer. You may even decide to make an offer that is lower than you originally planned to reflect the extra expenses you could incur.
If the property you’re interested in is affected by chancel repair liability but you don’t want to walk away, or if the land checks prove inconclusive, you could take out indemnity insurance for peace of mind. This will cover you for any defects found on the property’s title during the survey in the event that they cause problems in the future. The insurance costs from £50 pounds, but your solicitor will also charge you a fee to process it.
As we said at the start of this blog, chancel repair liability has not been abolished, although the law has changed to enforce parish churches to register which properties fall within their chancel repair catchment area.
While this law can be confusing, you shouldn’t necessarily let it put you off buying that dream property. For peace of mind, conduct a thorough search via a conveyancer and for extra back-up, take out indemnity insurance if you decide to go ahead with the purchase.
Disclaimer: All information and links are correct at the time of publishing.