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Why ancient chancel repair liability is still a modern risk

At a glance

  • Recent revision to the archaic law has finally created clarity for some property owners, but issues around liability remain for others
  • Chancel repair liability still relevant to property owners who acquired their premises before 13 October 2013
  • Zurich continues to offer chancel repair liability insurance to ensure property owners are covered against claims

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Recent amends to the ancient law of chancel repair liability may have clarified the legal position, but issues around liability remain.

Chancel repair liability is an archaic legal obligation, which forces owners of affected properties to contribute to repairs or maintenance of the chancel of their local parish church.

How customers can avoid falling foul of chancel repair liability

Property owners can find out if chancel repair liability insurance is available for their property – and if it is required – to ensure they are covered against claims.

Any owners of unregistered land may wish to consider applying for voluntary first registration of their land as it is possible they will be able to take free of any unregistered chancel repair liability as at the date of first registration.

Since 13 October 2013, chancel repair liability is no longer enforceable – as an overriding interest – against an owner acquiring a property after that date unless the liability has been registered against the property prior to the purchase.

However, owners of properties purchased before 13 October 2013 can still be at risk if they continue to own an affected property. A church can still demand payment for chancel repairs if an owner acquired a property before 13 October 2013 – even if the church’s right is not discoverable on the Land Registry title to that property.

“Zurich welcomes the move towards all liabilities being registered with the Land Registry and believes that this will improve clarity for both homeowners and insurers from 13 October 2013,” said Heidi Pfleger, Solicitor and Senior Legal Indemnities Underwriter, Real Estate Insurance at Zurich.

Ancient land laws

Finding out whether a property is subject to this ancient liability has always been tricky. No one search can establish without doubt that a property does not carry such a liability – and this was one of the reasons for the recent law change.

Chancel repair graphic

According to the Land Registry, around 5,300 parishes in England and Wales are affected by chancel repair liability. It is not necessary to live near a church and any property located within a medieval historic parish boundary can potentially be affected.

And as many churches have been keen not to let this source of income disappear, the months leading up to 13 October 2013 saw many parochial church councils actively registering these liabilities.

Some high-profile cases have also hit the headlines in recent years, most notably the Wallbanks in Warwickshire who were eventually found liable in the courts for a bill of repairs to the chancel of their local church of £186,986 plus VAT and costs which brought the total up to approximately £250,000 – in addition to the £200,000 they spent fighting the case.

Another recent case saw Norfolk villagers complain when St Andrew’s Church in Gorleston requested money for the upkeep of the chancel of the church. The parish council said it had a duty to uphold the liability, however objectors could buy exemption for £50.

Threat not over

“Existing owners will still have potential liability regardless of non-registration and this will theoretically continue for decades to come,” said Heidi.

“Chancel repair liability insurance will therefore remain relevant and be of value to property owners who continue to own premises acquired before 13 October 2013.”

Zurich will continue to offer chancel repair liability insurance to those property owners who need it, to ensure they are covered against claims.

“The future demand for insurance will be primarily from existing property owners who are concerned about potential liability, purchasers of properties against which there are registered liabilities and those concerned about a liability being registered between exchange and completion of the purchase of a property,” added Heidi.

Image © Getty

For more information, get in touch

Heidi Pfleger | Solicitor and Senior Legal Indemnities Underwriter | 07875 886975

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