Q&A: I have heard that the law relating to chancel repair liability changed last year – does this mean that I no longer need to worry about it when buying or letting a new property?

March 5, 2014

No. There is still potential for chancel repair liability so beware of the pitfalls.

What does the change in the law actually mean?

As of 13 October 2013, chancel repair liability is no longer an overriding interest under the Land Registration Act 2002. This means that those benefitting from the interest (i.e. churches and their parish councils) need to protect their right to be able to enforce their interest against those purchasing land on or after 13 October 2013.

So, when do I have to consider chancel repair liability?

  • When an interest has been registered on the title

Such an interest will be shown on the official title register. If this is the case, you may well be called upon by the parish to contribute to chancel repair at some point.

  • When there is no interest registered on the title

Reliance should not be placed on what is recorded on the official register supplied by the seller’s solicitors or obtained by your own solicitors. A notice can be entered into the register at any time before a transfer of land is registered at the Land Registry, which means that during the interim period between completion and registration of the transfer, which may take months, an interest resulting in chancel repair liability could be registered. It is therefore important that your solicitor makes an application for an official search with priority to protect the transfer prior to its registration. A valid official search confers a period of 30 business days (the “Priority Period”) in which to lodge the transfer. The Priority Period means that you, as the applicant, will take the property free of any interest that a third party has applied to register against the property during that time, other than those protected by an earlier official search.

  • If you have obtained land without having paid for it

If the land is transferred after 12 October 2013 for no consideration for example by way of a gift or inheritance or following insolvency, you may still take the land subject to chancel repair liability even if this liability is not protected on the register, as you will be deemed to have taken the land subject to whatever interests affected the land at the time of the registerable disposition, i.e. the transfer for consideration which occurred previously.

  • If you are taking a new lease of a property

If you, as a tenant, are bound to pay chancel repair liability, by law, or indirectly, pursuant to the terms of the lease, then you may still be at risk of chancel repair liability unless the freehold has been sold for value since 13 October 2013.

What should I do if I am liable for chancel repair?

You should take out an insurance policy to insure against future liability as soon as possible. Although it is likely that the premium will be fairly high, this is a small price to pay compared to the contribution that you may be required to pay. In 2003 a House of Lords’ decision resulted in a couple having to pay £186,969 plus VAT to the church to repair the chancel. The couple ultimately had to sell their home in order to pay the chancel repair!

What is chancel repair liability? - A brief history

Chancel repair dates back to medieval times when the repair of a church was the responsibility of the parish, and as such, the church had the discretion to either ask for contributions from all affected land owners or request that the wealthiest landowner pay the whole amount. After Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and sold the rectorial land, the liability for the repair of the chancel passed to the new owners of the land. Those who lived in such properties were known as lay rectors.


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