The United Kingdom is renowned for its established legal system. There are laws governing just about everything, and even some obscure laws that only affect a handful of people, particularly when they least expect it! One such law is the Chancel Repair Liability Law.
Before the Reformation of the churches in the 15th century, vicars and rectors were responsible for repairs to their churches. At this time the land around the church was also considered to be chancel land, on which many parishioners dwelled.
Since rectors and vicars had certain rights, in particular collecting taxes and tithes for the land around the parish, they would pay for part of the repairs to the church and the parishioners would pay the other part. In those years this was usually split in such a way that the parishioners paid for the western end of the church and the priest or rector paid for the chancel at the eastern end. In essence, the rector was able to pay his share using the taxes and tithes paid by the parishioners.
Since the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in the 16th century, the land around many of our churches has been spilt up and sold off. This does not mean, however, that the law has faded away; indeed, the new property or landowners became responsible for paying the repairs. In fact, the British Government reinforced the payment of chancel repairs by introducing the Chancel Repairs Act in 1932.
It is often the case that people who have bought a property in an area near an existing church are not aware of any possible liability to the chancel repairs. It is not a topic that is widely discussed and highlighted. In many cases it is a complicated issue, with liability of the new home or landowner having to be established through reading of the deeds or checking with the Land Registry Office. This is a drawn-out affair and in the majority of cases it solely depends on whether liability for the land has actually been recorded in the first instance!
In essence, if you are considering purchasing land or property that is near to a church, it is best to try and find out whether you will be affected by the Chancel Repairs Act 1932. Not all churches will enforce the law, but you should be prepared just in case you are asked to make a contribution. Chancel repair only affects certain areas of England and Wales, with approximately 40% of land being considered as chancel land. Your solicitor or conveyance can get the ball rolling for you; if you are interested in purchasing land or property that may be affected, they can approach the vicar or rector direct or check the Anglican Church website to confirm clear parish boundary lines. There is also the option of conducting a Chancel Repair Check or search, although this is not always reliable – many reports come back as “possible” or “at risk” with no concrete answer.
If you think there is a possibility or have found out that your property/land is affected by the Chancel Repairs Act 1932, you can take out Chancel Repair Liability Insurance. This is usually a relatively small premium and there are a few providers that offer this insurance, so it is advisable to shop around. The premium you will pay will depend mainly on the value of your property or land.
The good news is that there is a Transitional Provisions Order that has been in effect since 2003. The conditions of the order mean that all chancel repair obligations for land or property owners will be relinquished as of 13 October 2013. The only way that you or a new owner will be liable to pay chancel repair costs after this date is if the church has registered a note of interest on any particular property or land area with the Land Registry Office before this date.