Chancel Repair Liability Update

Since the 2003 House of Lords’ ruling in the case of Aston Cantlow v Wallbank, chancel repair liability has earned notoriety amongst conveyancing practitioners.  In that case, Mr and Mrs Wallbank were ordered – after a 17-year court battle – to pay almost £500,000 towards the entire cost of repair of the chancel of the medieval parish church in Aston Cantlow, Warwickshire.

Chancel repair liability is an (albeit rare) obligation placed upon certain property owners to fund repairs to the chancel for some pre-reformation churches. Since the time that Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and sold their land, chancel repair liability has continued to pass through ownership of property.  The current situation regarding these rights is that they need not be registered at the Land Registry in order to remain binding on new purchasers as a result of their being classed as “overriding interests” under the Land Registration Act 2002.

Liable property does not even have to be in close proximity to the church in question, nor does it have to have any buildings on it – Mr and Mrs Wallbank’s liable property was a field.  As they discovered, the cost of repairs can be substantial.  Furthermore, where a property is subject to chancel repair liability this may adversely affect its value and saleability.  The liability is joint and several, meaning that the whole amount can be demanded from the owner of one liable property, even where there is more than one liable property.

It is therefore now common practice for a purchaser’s solicitor to carry out a simple screening search in order to check whether a property is located within the historical boundary of a parish which has a potential chancel repair liability, and insure against the risk if necessary for both the purchaser and their successors in title.

However, as from midnight on 13 October 2013, chancel repair liability will cease to be an overriding interest.  This means that this archaic right to enforce chancel repair liability will only be capable of protection by registration of a notice against the title of the property at the Land Registry.

This may well lead to a deluge of applications from the Church to the Land Registry prior to 13 October 2013 in order to protect their interests.  However, the Land Registry have confirmed that for any such application to succeed, documentary evidence should be provided detailing how the liability arose and how the benefit of the right to enforce has devolved to the applicant.  Such rights will also not cease to exist after 13 October 2013 – they can still be protected after this date but only if there has been no change in ownership since the changeover date.

The change taking place in October next year will make it far easier for purchasers buying land which is currently subject to chancel repair liability.  Clearly, those entitled to the benefit of chancel repair rights will need to ensure that such overriding interests as currently exist are registered as soon as possible.

This guide is for general information and interest only and should not be relied upon as providing specific legal advice. If you require any further information about the issues raised in this article please contact the author or call 020 7404 0606 and ask for your usual Goodman Derrick contact.