The Chancel Repair Bill – which seeks to abolish chancel repair liability entirely – finally received its first reading on 16 July 2014. This is a full 30 years after the Law Commission first recommended abolition following consultation with the Church of England.
What is chancel repair liability?
Currently a land owner has a potential responsibility to pay for chancel repairs if their property is on land formerly owned by the Church of England.
Prior to 13 October 2013, the liability was an overriding interest and therefore land owners were automatically bound even if they were unaware of it.
As of 13 October 2013, the liability is no longer an overriding interest and therefore, in order to bind property, the Church of England has to register the liability on the title register to the property at the land registry.
If a property has changed hands for valuable consideration since 13 October 2013 then, in the absence of a registered entry against the title, there can be no liability. However, if the property has not changed hands since 13 October 2013, then the overriding interest remains and could still be registered.
Is your property liable?
A chancel repair search can tell you if a property is potentially liable to chancel repair liability. Whilst it has been acknowledged that the Church rarely enforces the liability, the repairs can be expensive and liability is said to reduce the value of a property so why take the risk?
There is no need to carry out a search if the property has been sold since 13 October 2013 for valuable consideration, as the title register should contain definitive evidence of any potential chancel repair liability (or if not, then no liability can accrue).
Insure against liability?
You can insure against liability and this is best practice if a property with chancel repair liability has not changed hands since 13 October 2013, even if the Church has not registered the liability on the title. It is also likely to be a requirement of any lender funding the purchase.
Abolition of liability once and for all?
The Chancel Repairs Bill seeks to abolish once and for all liability for landowners to contribute towards chancel repairs, regardless of whether an interest has been noted against the title. If the Act is passed, this will mean the end of chancel repair searches and insurance . The only exception is in certain cases in which the need for repair arises and proceedings brought before the Act is passed.
A date for the second reading, where the Bill will be debated in Parliament is yet to be confirmed.