Chancel repair liability explained C icon
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If you live within the boundaries of a parish church you could be liable to contribute towards the costs of repairs to it. The legal obligation dates back to medieval times, but it could still affect you if you own a house in England or Wales.

A church in disrepair

It's a liability benefiting over 5,000 pre-Reformation churches in England and Wales. In short, if you live on land within the boundary of one of these churches, you could be liable to pay for chancel repairs.

In comparison to the full UK housing market, only a small numbers of homes are affected. But commercial and residential properties are liable regardless of their age, and it's a perpetual obligation (never-ending).

Issues concerning the local church aren't typically factored in when you're looking to buy a home. But ignoring this liability, or deciding against conducting thorough searches and getting insurance could be a costly mistake.

Is it still an issue for property owners?

A law change in 2012 prompted around 250 churches to register the liability at the Land Registry. As a result, some churches lost legal rights and their ability to issue notices to property owners within their boundaries.

Despite the law change, chancel liability still exists and churches can still apply for a property in their boundary to be liable. It shouldn't affect properties that have been sold since 2013, unless the property is registered as liable.

It's a complicated issue, but it still needs to be considered.

Chancel repair dates back to the 16th century. Originally chancel repairs were the responsibility of monks living in a monastery. But when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and sold the land, chancel repair liability passed from the monks to the landowners.

Cases nowadays are extremely rare, but despite that the liability still exists.

If you're buying a home, your solicitor could carry out a Land Registry search during the conveyancing process to reveal any existing notices. The cost of the search can depend on your solicitor's fees.

If you’re buying a home, this search can often be included in the property ‘searches’ that are carried out. These searches should report on flood risks, land registry and local searches, so it could flag chancel repair liability. But you should check first.

You don't necessarily need to be in the process of buying a house to check if you're liable for chancel repair. Instant reports can be bought online, or you could do this yourself by searching through the national archives.

Standard home insurance policies don't cover chancel repair liability, but specialist cover can be found online.

Also known as ‘chancel indemnity insurance’, a policy can cover costs if there's a known liability and a claim is made against you for repairs.

We don't currently compare quotes for this type of insurance, but your solicitor could recommend a specialist provider, or they can be found online.

Unlike many insurance policies, chancel repair liability insurance is a one-off payment that could last as long as you own the property. It's important you check your policy, cover can last for 25 years or forever depending on your insurer.

There are 2 types of chancel repair liability insurance:

  • No search chancel liability insurance: No search has been carried out on your property, you're insuring against the possibility you could be liable.
  • Known liability chancel repair insurance: There's a known liability and you're insuring against a possible claim made by the church for repairs.
  • Your property may already be covered: Always check this before you exchange, your solicitor should enquire for you.

The price can vary due to a number of factors including:

  • The level of cover required
  • Amount of land involved (from less than 1 acre to 10 acres)
  • Whether the policy is for 25 years, 35 years or runs indefinitely

Successful claims made by the church in the past 200 years are extremely rare. But a high profile case in 2003 highlighted the existence of chancel repair liability to a national audience. A couple in Warwickshire were forced to sell their farmhouse after being given a repair bill for £230,000 for upkeep of the local church.

More recently, homeowners in Tamworth had to go to court and fight lengthy battles to dispute similar claims.

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