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Buying your new home is an exciting time but no client has ever been excited by the legal process that goes with it.

However, it’s important to be aware of what your conveyancer is doing for you and why. New homes come with new obligations and one of the more unusual ones is Chancel Repair Liability.   

Chancel Repair Liability is a remnant of the law of England and Wales which dates back hundreds of years. Some medieval churches in England and Wales imposed a duty on the rector of that church to repair and maintain the area around the altar, known as the chancel. Church rectors had the ability to raise those funds from the rectory lands around the church.

Fast forward a few hundred years and much of the former rectory land has now been divided up and sold. A lot of the land around old rectories and churches is considered particularly beautiful – possibly because it has often been preserved from mass development. However, those ancient obligations to fund the repair of the chancel in their local parish church haven’t gone away – and the price tag if one applies to you and your home can be significant. The unlucky Defendants in the 2003 case, Aston Cantlow and Wilmcote with Billesley Parochial Parish Church Council v Wallbank, were ordered to pay £95,000 towards chancel repairs – a huge sum which was no doubt difficult for them to raise (especially against a home which may already have been mortgaged).   

The good news for prospective purchasers of land is that from October 2013, under the Land Registration Act 2002, in order for local parochial church councils to enforce this liability against landowners, the obligation to pay for repairs needs to have been registered with the Land Registry. In some circumstances it is possible for this registration to occur after October 2013.  It is this kind of risk your conveyancer is looking into when they are acting on your behalf when you buy a property.

So how do I protect myself?

Where an obligation exists to fund chancel repairs, the deeds and title documents of the property in question may include reference to this. However, the liability is not always clearly documented. For clarity, separate chancel repair liability searches can be made for a particular parcel of land which will confirm whether it is located in an area where the liability may exist. It is possible to obtain chancel repair liability insurance to protect against the risk of being landed with an unexpected bill for chancel repairs.

If you have any questions about chancel repair liability, or whether your property might be at risk, please contact our residential conveyancing team via email at [email protected] or via telephone on 0344 251 0070.

If you are involved in a dispute relating to chancel repair liability, our property disputes team may be able to help. Please contact via email at [email protected] or via telephone on 0344 251 0070.