What are chancel repairs ?

In medieval times every parish had its own rector. Historically rectors were responsible for the upkeep of churches and in particular the chancel of the building which is the space around the altar to the liturgical east of a church building. The Church of England set aside land within a parish as rectorial or glebe land which was expected to provide income for the rector. This rectorial land could be anywhere within the parish and not necessarily land or buildings attached to the Church itself. During the reign of Henry VIII parts of rectorial land was sold off to private owners and the responsibility to repair the chancel also passed with the land. These private landowners were considered to be lay rectors.

A chancel repair liability is a legally enforceable overriding interest and therefore does not need to be registered against the title to land or property. Under the Chancel Repairs Act 1932, a parochial church council can serve a demand on land owners for the contribution towards the cost of repairing a church chancel.

In the case of Aston Cantlow PCC of v Wallbank, Mr & Mrs Wallbank were the owners of a farmhouse on rectorial land. They were served with a demand by their local church to contribute £6,000 towards the repair of their local church chancel. The claim was reject at the Court of Appeal in 2001 on Human Rights grounds. However in 2003 Aston Cantlow PCC took the case to the House of Lords and Mr & Mrs Wallbank were ordered to pay the repair bill, by which stage had risen to approximately £210,000.00.

There is now deadline for PCC’s to register all chancel repair obligations with the Land Registry by 13 October 2013. If the obligation is not registered at the Land Registry, the PCC will lose the right to recover the cost of the chancel repairs from the lay rector after the land changes hands.

Chancel repair liabilities are estimated to affect 3.5 million acres of land in England. It is difficult to determine whether an area of land is affected by a chancel repair liability as land was marked at by rectors in the 13th century from historical maps and memory which has caused ambiguity over the years.

Due to the ambiguity, until 13 October 2013 when purchasing a property, your solicitor will carry out a chancel check. The search will only be able to determine whether there is a potential risk, and not whether there is a definitive risk. If there is a potential risk your solicitor will advise you to purchase chancel indemnity insurance to cover you against the cost of any future claim.

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