A beginner’s guide to chancel repair liability
Many properties in England and Wales are liable for a kind of tax called chancel repair liability, yet many homeowners and landowners have never heard of it.
What is chancel repair liability?
Chancel repair liability has existed since 855AD. It identifies the people responsible for the upkeep of parish churches and specifically the chancel, which is the area near the altar. Over the years, these liabilities became complicated, but it is possible to inherit a liability for church upkeep costs whenever you purchase or inherit land.
You may not even know where the church is, or that your land ever belonged to the church – although a great deal of land still does because a freehold lease is still only a lease. There are no exemptions for atheists, Methodists, Jews or Muslims. In law, taking tenure of the property is an undertaking to pay the liability whenever asked.
Are you affected?
The Land Registration Act 2002 tried to free property owners from liability if the Land Registry fails to record it; however, this appears to be legally flawed, so a Land Registry search is no guarantee that you will never receive a bill.
An obligation can exist wherever parishes exist, which is everywhere – both in the countryside and the city. It is difficult to recognise parish boundaries in places such as London; however, there are many churches of historical importance that could ask for upkeep, especially in these times of falling congregations. When looking for conveyancing solicitors London residents are advised to seek specialists with expertise in this area, such as https://www.samconveyancing.co.uk/Conveyancing-Solicitors/Conveyancing-Solicitors-London.
How can I protect myself?
In practice, it is rare for churches to make a liability demand; however, if they have no other way to repair a valuable medieval church, they can and they do. In 2003, a bill for £100,000 was contested by one property buyer – and he lost. Despite several parliamentary attempts to curtail it, chancel repair liability is still legal.
Fortunately, there is a solution. A cheap one-off payment can buy a policy to transfer the obligation to an insurance company if a bill is ever received. If you have any concerns that your land might carry obligations to a church, these policies make very good sense – if only for your peace of mind.