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King Henry VIII and Chancel Repair Liability: His Conveyancing Legacy.

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For our most up-to-date blog on Chancel Repair Liability, please click here.

This blog has been updated and you can read a more comprehensive post by clicking here.

A legal Conveyancing nightmare was finally over this week, for a couple forced to auction their home to pay for repairs to their local church, for which they were responsible under an arcane law known as Chancel Repair liability.

The Wallbanks sold their property at auction this week for £850,000, to pay off the estimated cost of repairs to the Chancel of their local church in Aston Cantlow near Stratford on Avon. The legal cost of fighting their case through the High Court, Court of Appeal and the House of Lords was estimated to be a further £2,500,000.

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

This is the first of a series of posts on the lessons and guidance to be learned from the Wallbanks unfortunate Conveyancing experience. It is fair to say that between 1533 and 1539 Henry VIII had other things on his mind than Conveyancing Reform.

A little local difficulty with Rome and a pesky clergy and noble power base, severe cashflow problems, led him to seek radical action.

One of the solutions was the dissolution of the monasteries and assumption of their lands into the Crown.

But, the monasteries had gobbled up large tracts of rectorial land. As Rectors, the monasteries had installed “vicars”, as their deputies, to cure the souls of the parish. They also became liable for repairing the Chancels of Churches in question as well.

The income for this liability was to be sourced from the profits of the rectory, namely the glebe and the tithe.

When Henry VIII sold off the monasteries, he also sold off the liability for the Chancel Repair with the lands, creating “lay rectors”.

In 1932, an unfortunate Mr. Stevens was put into Bedford Gaol for having disregarded an order from the Diocesan Chancellor requiring him to repair a chancel for which he was liable.

The 1932 Chancel Repair Act abolished the main jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Courts and transferred enforcement of Chancel Repair liability to the County Court.

The Wallbanks property was known as Glebe Farm (big clue in the title) and the liability was noted in the title deeds as well.

The biggest problem, in most instances, (and there are approximately 5200 parishes which could be affected in England and to a lesser extent Wales), is that there is simply no record of the Chancel Repair liability to be found.

The defence of “Who Knew” is not available.

I will be returning to the practical problems still associated with Chancel Repair liability and how it affects you when buying your property over the next few days.

But don’t worry too much. The solutions are out there!