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Did Chancel Repair Liability Turn Into Another Millennium Bug?

View profile for Paul Hajek
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Update: this blog has now been updated, and you can view it here.

Where Exactly Are We With Chancel Repair Liability? from Clutton Cox

Cast your minds back, if you will, to the eve of the new millennium and to tales of potential computer Armageddon.

We had been warned. Something nasty was about to strike us – beware 1999 turning into 2000.

Yet, as the clock ticked inexorably towards midnight and one second beyond the vast majority of us were able to breathe a sigh of relief: the scurrilous millennium bug had not melted our computers.

So too , at one second past midnight on the 13th October 2013,  despite grave rumours, the vast majority of registered land homeowners were able to wipe beads of sweat from their brows with no hint of Chancel Repair Liability affecting title to their properties. That particular bugbear had been and gone

Deadline Day for Chancel Repair Liability

The Government had legislated (initially) that 12th October was deadline day for Chancel Repair Liability for registered property in England and Wales.

This ancient liability for landowners being responsible for the upkeep of their local medieval church chancel, would be removed once and for all - unless a note of chancel repair liability had already been placed on the title of relevant properties.

Chancel Repair Liability: The Story So Far

Those of you who have read my blog Chancel Repair Liability: The Full Monty and followed updates via Twitter will be aware of a few skirmishes along the way.

Happily for most, local Parochial Parish Councils (PCCs) which had responsibility for registering the liability of behalf of the Church of England had decided not to enforce the liability in their parishes.

Some PCCs  have cited “reputational damage” to the Church of England and applied for a dispensation from the Charity Commissioners,  so as to avoid any personal liability themselves, as charitable Trustees.

The Losers in Chancel Repair Liability

Alas, in the same way as the millennium bug hit a few unfortunates so too a few people have been smitten with Chancel Repair Liability.

It is clear from Land Registry data that some house owners have had notices of potential Chancel Repair Liability registered against their homes.

The Church Times reported last week that 89 PCCs had lodged 601 applications to register Chancel Repair Liability ahead of the deadline. PCCs had also registered 95 cautions against first registration of unregistered land.

Sting in the Tail for Unregistered Property

A caution against first registration is used where the land in question has not yet been registered at the Land Registry. On first registration the registered land vests in the owner free of any rights which are not subject of a notice in the register at the Land Registry. So, unregistered land can escape the deadline at least for a while.

It will still be possible for PCCs to seek to register Chancel Repair Liability after 12th October against relevant property until it has been sold (not just gifted) and for what we lawyers call “valuable consideration” or in other words for money.

The Future of Chancel Repair Liability

There is no doubt that the passing of the deadline will kick Chancel Repair Liability into touch for the vast majority.

But, the human effect for those unfortunate to have this anachronistic blight on their homes was clear for anyone watching the One Show last week. The genuine discomfort and worry on the faces of the two unfortunate parishioners in the village of Humbleton near Hull could not be underestimated. Would you buy a home with a liability which may or may not be called upon and had no idea of the cost?

For those homeowners who have their houses blighted by registration I see a few possible solutions:

1. Seek and mobilise as much publicity as possible to demonstrate the injustice of the registration and force PCCs to seek dispensation from the Charity Commission on the grounds of “reputational damage” which risk losing future givers to the Church.

2. You may still be able to obtain Chancel Repair Liability Insurance ( but premiums will be high) when you come to sell your property depending what happens in practice after 12th October. Some PCCs have said they only sought to register Chancel Repair Liability to avoid personal liability themselves and do not have intentions to enforce.

3. If your property is unregistered and may be affected seek Chancel Repair Liability insurance BEFORE a notice can be lodged against your property

4. It may be possible no matter how unpalatable to negotiate a commutation ( buyout) of your liability under the  Ecclesiastical Dilapidations Measure 1923.

Unlike the millennium bug, Chancel Repair will be a bug that bears a few unfortunate people a potential financial liability for many years to come. Buyers are likely to look elsewhere if your home has Chancel Repair Liability notice registered against it.

If you have been affected by Chancel Repair or worry that you may still be potentially liable seek the advice of your solicitor -sooner rather than later.

Paul Hajek

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