Property owners can find themselves liable for repairs to the chancels of their local parish churches in England and Wales. The chancel is the space around the altar in the sanctuary, and in some cases includes the choir.
Back in medieval times, rectors and parsons in the Church of England received tithes from parishioners instead of a salary (stipend). In return, they were responsible for repairs to the chancels of their churches, while parishioners were responsible for the rest of the building.
When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and sold their rectories (also known as glebes) with land, the liability for chancel repairs passed to the new landowners and subsequent owners, known as lay rectors.
Property owners in England and Wales can find themselves liable for repairs to their local parish church without the information being available in title deeds. This can be difficult for solicitors to identify during the conveyancing process.
Solicitors regularly advise clients to take out insurance cover where the land the property is built on is considered to be at risk.
In 2003 the House of Lords upheld the chancel repair liability claim in favour of the Aston Cantlow Parochial Parish Council against lay rectors Andrew and Gail Wallbank, who were faced with a £100,000 bills for repairs for their local parish church and were left with a £300,000 bill including legal costs. Aston Cantlow PCC v Wallbank
Prior to the registration deadline of 13 October 2013, the onus was on for individual parochial parish councils (PCCs) to register interests for repairs with the Land Registry. This lead to a number of homeowners receiving notifications from the Land Registry about registration of interests on their property.
New owners of land since October 2013 will not be liable for chancel repairs unless the interest had already been registered with the Land Registry prior to the October deadline.
Land Registry publishes guidance on Historic rights including chancel repair liability
The National Archives hold maps and parish records which could help solicitors and licensed conveyancers establish liability for property owners.
For further information contact our library team.
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