Chancel repair liability is a long standing legal provision which makes homeowners liable for the repair of churches where a parish has registered an overriding interest in their land. The potential costs attached to repairing churches can give homeowners unholy nightmares but unfortunately the title deeds of a house do not necessarily show that liability for chancel repairs exists.
Parochial Church Councils had until October 2013 to register chancel repair liability with the Land Registry. Properties sold after this date where no interest has been registered cannot be held liable but properties where an interest has been registered or which have not been sold since October 2013 may continue to be held liable.
The National Secular Society has alleged that 12,000 properties have already had a registration notice served on them, and many more may yet receive one. As a result, public interest and awareness in the issue has increased.
The only way to remove the liability is to convince the parish to do so, or to prove the liability was enforced incorrectly. Abolition of chancel repair liability would therefore be a great relief to owners of encumbered properties given the vast expense often associate with it.
The Price of Godliness
Homeowners affected by chancel repair liability have every reason to be supportive of attempts to repeal it. As recently as 2003, a couple were ordered by the courts to over £300,000 in chancel repair and legal costs. Even where the right is not exercised, the liability has had an adverse effect on house prices.
Supporters of the bill argue that the campaign to abolish chancel repair liability is not a new concept. The Explanatory Notes accompanying the Bill explain that the General Synod of the Church of England recommended as far back as 1982 that the liability should be gradually abolished.
This view was developed by the Law Commission, which argued for a 10 year phase out period in their report on the issue in 1985. Finally, the Law Society in 2006 supported both the Law Commission and the General Synod by arguing for the abolition of chancel repair liability.
Is Abolition of Chancel Repair Liability A Faltering Crusade?
The bill, however, is unlikely to become law. The Government stated in 2012 that it did not support the abolition of chancel repair liability. Without Government support, the bill, even if it clears the House of Lords is unlikely to have the support or time in the House of Commons to become law.
Furthermore, even if the bill passes Parliament, the Act only covers new claims. Claims that exist when the Act passes would still continue to be valid, and those homeowners would continue to be liable for the repair.
Although the introduction of the Bill is a significant step towards abolition it may still be some time before homeowners are able to confidently breathe a collective sigh of relief!