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Chancel Repair Liability: Updated

View profile for Paul Hajek
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For our most up-to-date blog on Chancel Repair Liability, please click here.

Some of you may have read my previous posts on Chancel Repair Liability and King Henry VIII’s Conveyancing legacy.

I have been amazed at the interest generated which range from Chancel Repair Liability Insurers to the Wall Street Journal. 

I am particularly indebted to fellow solicitor Neil McCormick from Frome, who has given me the benefit of his learned insights.

Here is an adapted and updated list of 21 questions on the common instances and practicalities of Chancel Repair Liability in modern Conveyancing practices, and how it can impact on the buying and selling of your home.

Let’s start at the beginning:

1. What is a Chancel:

The Chancel is the roughly the area including the altar and the choir stalls, which accounts for pretty much the east end of the Church, or 25% of the total area of the Church.

2. How does Chancel Repair Liability arise?

It can arise in four sets of circumstances:

(a) Ownership of Glebe Land (that is ancient land set aside, from which the income was used to upkeep of the parish church)
(b) Ownership of Land acquired in lieu of tithes under local Enclosure Acts
(c) Ownership of tithes created by local Enclosure Acts
(d) Ownership of tithes created by the Tithe Acts 1836

3. What is the standard of Chancel Repair required: Is it unlimited?

It was thought to be nothing more than keeping the Chancel watertight and maintain essential fittings. There was no obligation to provide repair which was purely ornamental and decorative. This seems to be no longer the case as a recent case has confirmed and improvements can now be factored in to the cost

4 Why does it seem to be confined to Pre Reformation Churches?

The legal obligation to maintain the Chancel was a trade off for receiving income from glebe lands or tithe dating back to around 900 AD.

Henry VIII when he dissolved (or privatised as we would say now) the monasteries, allowed for the first time that the right to this income no longer was confined to a church institution but could be a lay person, the so called Lay Rectors

5 How many properties are affected by Chancel Repair Liability?

It is estimated that as many as 5200 parishes may be the subject of the Liability, although some 1200 will be the responsibility of the Church Commissioners and Deans of Oxford, Cambridge and Durham Universities as well as the colleges of Winchester and Eton.

6 What are the most recent Acts which govern the law in relation to Chancel Repairs?

The 1932 Chancel Repair Act transferred jurisdiction from the Ecclesiastical Courts to the County Court.

The main issues are contained in the 1936 Tithes Act

7 Will the Chancel Repair Liability show up on my Title Deeds?

Not necessarily. In some cases it will be, but in the majority of cases no.

8 What if my property is registered at the Land Registry. Will the Title to my Property at the Land Registry make it clear?

No, the same still applies.

However, if there is no entry placed on your deeds by 2013 (because of legislation passed in 2002),and your property is registered at the Land Registry, then the liability cannot be enforced against you.

If your property is unregistered and specific reference is contained in your title deeds to the Chancel Repair liability, the liability will be noted on your title at the time of first registration

The worrying point is still that if a piece of land is subject to potential Chancel Repair Liability and that land remains unregistered at the Land Registry after 13th October 2013, the land will remaiin subject to that potential liability

9 Who can enforce Chancel Repair Liability?

It is the responsibility of each Parochial Church Council to enforce the liability rather than the Church as a whole

10 Why would a PCC want do this in this day and age?

Money is tight, and in the most recent case, the PCC were refused a grant from English Heritage because “they had failed to exhaust other avenues of finance” i.e. Chancel Repair Liability

11 Will my house be the only one liable?

In all cases the liability will be joint and several. The PCC could choose to pursue whom they liked. That person in turn would be able to claim a contribution from all other liable parties. (Although, that would be easier said than done). The worry is that just one registration in an area could allow the whole cost of the repair to be claimed

Despite the recent House of Lords case involving the parish church of Aston Cantlow and Mr and Mrs Wallbanks, it is thought that relatively few parishes are aware. This will no doubt change in the run up to 2013.

12 How far away from the Church does my house have to be?

It depends on ancient parish boundaries. You would normally be within sight of the church, but you could be some 30 miles away.

13 Is there anywhere where such maps could be inspected?

Not really. The National Archive at Kew has the most information. But only in relation to ownership of tithes

14 Are there any property names which might give the game away?

Yes, there are a few telltale signs. Anywhere with the following should be investigated carefully; Rectory, Glebe, Vicarage and Parsons

15 Are properties in Wales affected as well?

Yes, but to a lesser extent, as Wales was subject to specific legislation in 1920

16 Has anyone had to pay Chancel Repair Liability recently?

Yes. The unfortunate Wallbanks referred to in Q11 ended up selling their farmhouse Glebe (Clue in the Title) Farm, to pay for the repair of the Chancel to St. John the Baptist Church in Aston Cantlow, Warwickshire. The cost of the repairs was estimated at £200000, and probably as much again in legal costs taking their case all the way up to the House of Lords.

17 What about the Human Rights Act and if my religion is not Church of England?

The human rights angle was used in the Wallbanks case. The Court rejected the argument that the liability was “an unfair and arbitrary tax” as the PPC is not a public body, and church repairs were a private matter. This seems somewhat spurious.

18 Will the knowledge of the liability have an effect on the value of my house?

Yes, if it known. No, if it is not known. Your Conveyancing Solicitor may (but by no means always, for the reasons already explained) be able to advise you from his or her knowledge of the area

19 If there is any doubt, can I insure the property against future liability?

Yes, you can. A number of insurance companies will cover the risk for you. A search is also possible at a cheaper fee but will not reveal much. The best option is to insure without the search

20 Is this expensive?

No, the cost is normally between £50 to £100 plus VAT

21 What happens if the property I am buying could be potentially liable?

Your Conveyancing Solicitor can then have the property insured for the full amount of the purchase price. Most general legal indemnity insurers will provide cover based on the value of the property.


The good news is that, for the vast majority of people, Chancel Repair Liability has a definitive shelf life.

The bad news is that until then the liability could bite you firmly on the backside.

The further good news is that you can safely insure where you are in doubt.

The best advice is to speak with your Conveyancing Solicitor. If you like what you have read then make us your Conveyancing Solicitor

Image: via Flickr