This isn’t a blog about Ernest Hemingway’s acclaimed 1940 novel, but you may want to take note, if you can hear the church bells ringing on a Sunday morning it is because the rules relating to chancel repair are changing.

What is chancel repair liability?

Currently a land owner has a responsibility to pay for chancel repairs if their property is on land formerly owned by the Church. The liability is an overriding interest and therefore automatically binds a buyer of the land even if they were not aware of it.

Why is it an issue?

Chancel repair liability is a risk to those buying land because the purchaser could be required to pay for expensive repairs. If no insurance policy has been taken out to cover this possibility then the purchaser will have to fund the repairs themselves. This risk is particularly illustrated in the case (Aston Cantlow PCC v Wallbank [2003] UKHL 37) where property owners were obliged to contribute almost £200,000 for chancel repairs.

Typically to protect against this risk, property purchases will be preceded by a chancel search which should reveal whether or not there is a risk.  On the basis of this result a purchaser or tenant may then choose to put in place insurance to cover the risk of any payments that need to be made.

What is the change?

On 13 October 2013, chancel repair liability will no longer be an overriding interest so further protection is required for the liability to be enforceable against buyers after this date. As a result, chancel repair liability must be noted as an expressly protected interest on the title register for that property in order to bind future purchasers.

What does this mean?

If the land is affected by chancel repair liability, new purchasers before 13 October 2013 will be bound even if the liability is not registered. If a property is bought on or after 13 October 2013, the liability is only binding if it has been registered. Note that if you currently own a property with chancel repair liability then you remain liable until the land is sold, even if the liability is not registered before 13 October 2013.

In theory this means that if you buy a property after 12 October no chancel check search will be required and, as long as chancel repair liability has not been protected by noting on the title, there is no need to obtain indemnity insurance to deal with chancel repair risks.

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This blog is intended only as a synopsis of certain recent developments. If any matter referred to in this blog is sought to be relied upon, further advice should be obtained.