‘Chancel be a fine thing’

Our Commercial Property paralegal Georgina Haley examines whether buyers and tenants should be concerned about an ancient law which can require them to pay tens of thousands of pounds towards the upkeep of a local church.

When purchasing or leasing a property there are many issues for you to consider, one of which is checking for any potential Chancel Repair Liability.

Chancel Repair Liability was first established during the reign of King Henry VIII. Despite being a dated concept, it is estimated that 5,200 Churches in England and Wales are still able to enforce the liability against neighbouring landowners, and require them to pay for the repair and upkeep of a medieval church. It is a common misconception that only properties close to churches may be liable.

Chancel Repair Liability also needs to be taken into consideration when taking a new Lease. Most Leases state that a Tenant must pay any charges related to the Property, allowing a Landlord to pass on liability for Chancel Repair payments to their Tenants.

Aston Cantlow PCC vs Wallbank is a recent case relating to chancel repair liability. Mr and Mrs Wallbank inherited a farm in Warwickshire in 1990 and were served with a notice to pay towards chancel repairs in their local parish. After an 18-year legal battle, the case was taken to the House of Lords where the ruling found them liable. Mr and Mrs Wallbank were forced to sell their property in order to pay the £230,000 to the parish and a further £250,000 of legal fees.

It is important therefore when instructing solicitors in a purchase or lease that proper checks as to the existence of any Chancel Repair Liability are carried out.

It was hoped amongst Property lawyers that the Land Registration Act 2002 would make the existence of chancel liability much clearer, but this has not been the case. The act stated that after 13 October 2013, if there was no pre-existing Chancel Repair Liability entry on a Land Registry title, when a Property changed hands for value then the buyer would take the Property free from any liability. However, it is still possible for a church to apply to register such a liability, at any time before a Property changes hands for value. A gift or inheritance of Property after 2013 would not mean the new owner takes the Property free from liability. Furthermore, the Land Registry state they will not check whether an application to note liability is valid even if made after this time – it is for the landowner to object and apply to remove the notice of liability from their title.

A risk also remains in connection with unregistered land. Currently 15% of land in England and Wales is not registered with HM Land Registry. A church can enter a caution on unregistered land protecting its ability to register a liability notice in future. The liability may not therefore come to light until the land is eventually registered.

Here at Else Solicitors we are happy to assist with any queries relating to Chancel Repair Liability. If you are purchasing or leasing a property we can check the relevant Land Registry title, look for any cautions against unregistered land, and obtain a search to check if any liability exists. If a liability is found, we can advise you on insurance to cover you against the risk that a demand for payment is made. If you are a Tenant we can advise you on whether the liability to pay passes to you under your Lease. We can also assist you if you have been served with a notice to pay for Chancel Repair Liability.

Please contact our property department by emailing caroline.major@elselaw.co.uk or georgina.haley@elselaw.co.uk.

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