Chancel Repair Liability is Fun

Legal disclaimer gubbins: this article contains the ramblings of a house buyer who has merely done a bit of research and presented it here as an introduction to the topic for your entertainment - as such, it may not be entirely accurate, and does not constitute legal advice. The same goes for the many, many comments at the bottom.

It is also worth noting that this was written in 2010, and the law change mentioned below came into effect on October 13, 2013; I'm still not clear on the full implications, but see the comments at the end for the discussion.


If you have bought a house in a church parish since 2003, you will probably have already heard about chancel repair liability. In fact, if you have bought a house in England at all in the past 8 years or so, there's a fair chance you'll have heard about this, as it affects about 40% of properties. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, chancel repair liability basically means that when you buy your house, you could also be buying the responsibility for the upkeep of your local church, so you can buy insurance to protect yourself. But when I looked into it, the details amused me so much that I thought I'd pass on what I'd found out.

It's super-fun but takes some explaining, so bear with me.

The house we have bought is in a church parish. Because it's in a parish, there's a risk that it's on glebe land. Glebe land is land that was, back in the day (as in the Norman Conquest days), set aside by the church to provide income for the rector of the church. When the parish church needs repairing, the congregation are responsible for where they sit at the west end, and the rector is responsible for the chancel at the east end of the church - and he gets his money to do that from the glebe land tied to the parish.

All very well and good, back in the day, when you had to donate 9/10ths of your income to the church to avoid going to hell. However, nobody thought to do away with glebe land at any point since then, so all over England there are still parcels of land in parishes which are still classed as glebe land. And these are no longer owned by the church - when Henry VIII broke it up and sold off the land, he sold the liability with it, creating lay-rectors.

The best bit is that none of the maps marking out the glebe land were accurate, given they were mostly drawn from memory by monks in the 13th century, and the maps haven't been kept up-to-date because most people had forgotten about glebes until 2002, so these days figuring out what is glebe land is mostly guesswork, and involves trawling through ancient manuscripts in the national archives at Kew.

That's irrelevant though, because as it stands, the law says that there is a chance that if you buy a house anywhere in a parish, you're actually buying a house that's on glebe land. And if the east end of the parish church needs repairing, you are liable for the costs.

This came up in a case in 2003. The people who owned the land were asked to pay something like £10,000 for repairs to the church; they said they'd pay, as long as the church agreed to give up its rights to charge them again in the future, which seems like a extremely generous and fair approach in this day and age. However, the church said no, and it took them to court. During the course of the court case they found out the foundations of the church needed replacing etc, and the repair bill reached about £240,000. The owners lost the case, had to pay for repairs, plus the legal costs of around £200,000. And their liability remains, should the church need any further work - so nobody in their right mind would buy that house now. Not only have they lost almost half a million over the repairs, but their house is now unsaleable and therefore essentially worthless.

As a result of this, there is now a booming industry in chancel repair liability insurance. We'll come back to this in a moment.

When this court case reached the press, there was a bit of Daily Mail outrage and the government moved to appease the people by putting a stop to it. They did what Labour did best (apart from going to war), and passed another law saying that the church has to register interest in any property built on glebe land before the property is sold for the first time after October 13, 2013. At least there is an end in sight. However, that still leaves the next 3 years, plus however long it takes to sell your house after 2013.

So now when you're buying a house, your solicitor will usually carry out a chancel liability check, and this will tell you whether or not you are in a parish. At that point, you are able to take out an insurance policy to protect you should it turn out that your property is on glebe land and the church registers an interest in it.

Loving this yet? It gets better.

At this point, you may think that it would be a good idea to determine whether your property is on glebe land before you take out insurance. However, if you do that and find out your property is on glebe land, there is no longer a potential liability - it is now a definite liability, and you can no longer buy insurance. Remember, you can insure against the risk it is liable, not against the risk the church may claim.

Not only that, but by law you now have to inform the land registry, the church will find out, and you're now going to the top of their hit list when their roof leaks. And of course when you come to sell your property, the liability - the unlimited liability that remains for the rest of time - will have a significant negative effect on the value of your property. So now you're not only guarding against repair costs for the church, but you also have to protect the value of the property - when you come to sell it, you can then point at the insurance and say "Don't worry, this liability is neutralised".

Well then, let's buy a chancel repair liability insurance policy, you say to yourself. They come in many different flavours; 25 year purchaser, 25 year successor, 35 year purchaser, 35 year successor, in perpetuity purchaser, in perpetuity successor and so on. The first obvious problem with this is that if the church does register an interest in the property and I didn't buy a successor policy, although I wouldn't be at risk for repair costs, I would not be able to transfer the policy to the next owner. So what, you say, that's their problem isn't it?

Well, imagine you go look around two properties; they are both 3 bedrooms, both in good condition, and then in the small print you find out that one of them comes with a free gift of unlimited liability to the church, the purchaser policy can't be transferred, and you can't get insurance because the liability has already been declared. You'll be buying the other property; the house with liability is now worthless, so the purchaser policies are essentially worthless.

But if you buy the 25 year or 35 year successor policy and the church declares an interest, in 25 or 35 years the property will be liable, so the value will drop, so those are again essentially worthless. So as far as I can tell, 5 of 6 types of policy these people are selling aren't worth the paper they're written on.

If you're not getting screwed by the priests, it's the lawyers.

Now this is a slightly misleading explanation, because I've overlooked the fact that these policies include cover for diminution of the value of the property - if the property is unsaleable, you would just need to make sure the insurance covers the value of your property, and provided you don't plan on moving in the next 3 years the purchaser cover will be fine. Of course though, you'd presumably get the money but keep the land as nobody would want to take the liability off your hands; you'd have no choice but to burn the house down and try to donate the land back to the church. And pay for whatever claims they made in the meantime.

But we want to be covered, so let's forge ahead and go for the in-perpitutity successor insurance; now we have to decide how much coverage we want to go for. The natural choice would seem to be the cost to repair or replace what is presumably a historic building. But remember, this is for the rest of time, so there is no limit to the liability. The rector could cancel his insurance policy, burn down the church, bill me for the repairs, burn it down again, bill me for the repairs, over and over and over again. He could be the start of a great family with thousands of descendants, all who become arsonist rectors at my local church. True, that would probably be illegal, but only if they got caught with petrol and a lighter, and only if their shares in the local building company were discovered. But I digress. The point is, there is no limit to how much money the church can ask for.

The best bit is that we have no idea how many properties are built on glebe land, so we don't know what share of any cost we would have to pay. We could be the only property in the town, or the whole of the parish could be glebe land. There is no way of telling.

So, you now have to buy an insurance policy for a potential, unconfirmable liability, without having any idea what your share in it would be, and with it having no limit in terms of cost or time.

Which is why it is amazing they sell insurance at all. The more you look into this, the more it feels like a scam - it seems like the insurance companies are just using the law to print money. They point at the test case and say "Look, it cost them half a million", but that was extreme, as from what I understand it was a house next to a derelict church in the middle of nowhere. And it was called "Glebe Farm". Now, there are unconfirmed reports that the church has employed a fleet of solicitors to make sure that as many properties are registered as possible - but the reports are unconfirmed, and usually appear on the websites that are selling insurance.

Having said all that, the cover isn't very expensive - for the "expensive" in-perpituity successor cover up to £500,000 we were quoted a one-off cost of £170; cover up to £3,000,000 for £370. If you're buying a house in England these days it's usually going to be well in excess of £100,000; the solicitor does a chancel check, and surprise, you're in a parish; now, would you like to pay £50 for 25 years cover? In the context of a £100,000+ purchase, what's £50 to safeguard the value? You'd pay that, right? After all, who's going to pull out of a purchase over that little extra cost when every other house in the town has the same potential liability? So pretty much everyone buying a house in a parish between 2003 and 2013 will buy a policy, there are approximately 10 million homes in parishes, and houses are re-sold at an average of 7-8 years - that is a lot of money for the insurance companies.

But at such a low cost for such a high cover policy, the insurance companies can't be expecting to pay out on all that many of them - they'll make a loss even if 1 in 2850 people makes a claim, before you take into account their costs. And even at those odds you're at least 120 times more likely to die in a road accident. I'm not a gambling man, but those are pretty good odds.

So on balance, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a bit of a scam. Now, bear in mind that I'm not a lawyer or a historian, so you would be insane to use my ramblings to influence your decision on whether or not to take out chancel repair liability, so don't - I can't be held responsible for you ending up owing millions to your local arsonist rector. Every property is different, so use your common sense - if you live somewhere called "Glebe Farm" and it's next to a derelict church, you will probably want to get the insurance. And of course, if your mortgage company is demanding that you take out insurance, you don't have much choice in the matter. However, I think my point has been made.

For the curious, we kept our £300 and spent it on a new fridge.


Bear in mind that the above article is my somewhat sensational take on the issue; I am not a lawyer, so I may even have got some details wrong, as unlikely as that sounds.

It looks like there are some great comments below, but as with everything I've said above, take them all with a pinch of salt. None of this is legal advice - people are reporting that they're having liabilities registered, so consult your own solicitor before making any decisions.

Comments

Simon

Uh... wow. Why don't they just abolish these claims altogether? Giving churches free reign to be parasitic on someone who purchases land is a bit idiotic.

Quite; at least the law is going to change in 2013, but why there has to be a 10 year gap after deciding to do that is anyone's guess - and it doesn't help anyone whose glebe land the church has already registered an interest in, they'll still have to pay up.

To be fair to the church, some parishes have apparently pledged not to do anything about their glebes, so I guess that's something.

One thing I didn't mention was that it did actually come up in the courts back in 1932, when someone was sent to jail for not paying for chancel repair. Instead of doing away with it, the government of the day actually brought in a law shifting responsibility from ecclesiastical courts to county courts, reinforcing the liability which had until then had apparently been assumed to be antiquated and unenforceable. Go figure.

"Go figure"? It's easy to figure. Who do you think is usually asked for money whenever a church needs repairing?

Clearly in 1932 an astute politician saw a nice opportunity to reduce the Crown's own liabilities, by shifting them on a few unfortunate subjects.
(Which also explains the 10-year gap in the last law: Her Majesty's Government does have an interest in the Church enacting that law as much as possible.)

Well, I'm not sure it's the government's responsibility to maintain churches - it seems the congregation are usually asked first ;)

But it's a good point - as I understand it there is certainly government funding available for repairs to ageing churches through English Heritage - I have no idea what the situation would have been in 1932, but presumably funding would still have been available in some form.

emma

this is all confusing can anyone clarify that in 2013 if no interest is shown we are safe from the church and how would we know if the church has shown an interest

It is a bit confusing. It certainly seems that if the church hasn't registered an interest in your property by 2013 that you will be safe. I think you could find out by checking with the land registry, but if you are concerned, the best thing to do would be to check with your solicitor/conveyancer.

emma

if i look it up on land registry wont that let the church know and they may grab at the chance for new pews or tithe dish or roof etc

Looking it up on the land registry should be fine - but it would only be listed there if the liability has been found recently, and the church would likely be aware of it, and I presume standard conveyancing would discover that and warn you.

I think the risk is when the land registry doesn't mention anything, but you find out through your own investigations (ie the national archives) - then you need to notify the land registry, and the church will find out.

As ever, check with your solicitor/conveyancer if you're concerned.

emma

yeah the solicitor we had mentined something about it could be but didnt seem to know too much ink we will just try and wait out for 3 years hoping not to get billed

linda brown

I'm new to this. Just trying to decide whether to sign contracts on a property with Chancel Repair Liability. It looks like potentially the whole of England could have this problem as the records are not accessable and accurate. It does put me off of going to church! Maybe the church should look at this and do something about it. I have no problem with helping out the church but I don't think its a Christian act to force people to pay this money.

I think some parishes have declared they will not pursue it, so it may be worth looking into that.

To be fair to the church, it probably made sense back in the day when you were paying your tithes, and these days it mostly seems to be English Heritage who are forcing the church to seek all alternative sources of income before they'll consider helping out.

Good luck with your house purchase!

T81

Please please please dont pull out of buying a house over this. Its all such a con. Insurance companies are loving it. Yes nearly all properties will fall under this supposed risk but how many people do you know that have had to pay this? The whole thing only exists today because of that unfortunate couple who lived on Glebe farm. When i bought my last house i paid the insurance... about £50. This time (about to exchange on new house) they can poke it up their...****. Same as insuring your mobile phone... ITS A WASTE OF TIME!Im not giving these vultures a penny. If i get charged then ill burn the church down as my homw will already be worthless so what the hell!

Ps. im no lawyer so make your own call but like the writer... im going Fridge shopping... or failing that, matches and some lighter fluid.

Kerry wood

The churches that ask for money and force people pay out for chancel should be shame of themself.Prests rectors and archbishope go and find yourself job,we on 2011 and medival time is over when you and all of your ancestors threaten humans that the devils would take over them if not be devote to the church,nowdays its only lots of f..b..s..Our governement should face this joke,remanding at the uk citizen we are in EU.Since i have read a lot of it,I M NOT GOING TO ANY ANGLICAN CHURCH EVER AGAIN ,until this unfun game get sorted.
Regards
Kerry

The Venerable Andrew Hawthorne

As a serving priest in the Church of England, I must agree with everything that has been said. I am ASHAMED and APPALLED to be a member of a Church which even considers enforcing this piece of medieval robbery, let alone enforces it. I say, it is a WICKED thing altogether and threatens to alienate the people of England whom we are trying t serve. We couldn't think up a better way of upsetting people or ruining thier lives.

Brian Shepheard

The 'law change' (actually a new regulation) in 2003 is not as far reaching as many appear to think.

If your land carries repair liability you as the owner will have to pay if asked until you sell the land whether or not the church registers an interest before Oct 2013. The new regulation did not extinquish the liability for present owners.

If you sell the land the new owner will ony be liable if interest was registered before Oct 2013

The Church does not want to lose this funding so they encourage insurance which means they can get their money with little offence.

The governmaent encourages insurance because it does not want to contribute via English Heritage

The insurers .....

This has been brought about by a large test case followed by a cynical regulation 'to make matters clearer' but not for ten years during which time the threat of registration forces the fearful to insure.

Gordon Brown was chancellor in 2003.

Susan Cartin

The "law change" is in fact the Land Registration Act 2003 which covers a wide range of things but which is attempting to make sure that the Land Registry records are like a log book for your house i.e. if it is not mentioned in the log book you do not need to worry. However, the problem with ancient legal rights is they are just that, they are legal. That is not to say they are fair. However, other such legal rights which may not show on the Land Registry are say if your family home which has passed down the generations has always used the next door farm track to drive to the house. Everyone has always been happy with that and you may now have a legal right. It may not be registered at the Land Registry but it is still legal. Now consider if the farmer could, without notifying you, stop you using it. That would seem unfair. So all the Act is doing is saying we don't want these ancient chancel rights hanging over people when the church has not bothered about them for years so we will give them 10 years to do something about it and after that they stand to lose it. A fair way, to both sides, to deal with an ancient unfairness. Personally I agree that Christian Churches ought to question how Christian it is to enforce their "legal" rights to the detriment of other peoples lives.

Now as a Licensed Conveyancer who has been doing Residential Property Law for 25 years I have to defend the conveyancers. Since this issue arose after the original case everyone has jumped on the bandwaggon to make money out of this. The companies providing Continuing Professional Development Courses which are compulsory for all qualified lawyers have used the opportunity to terrify us sufficiently about the issue that we flock in droves to take their particular course to ensure we are not going to get caught out with insufficient knowledge; the insurance companies bombard us with horror stories of what happened to lawyers who failed to push their insurances. Conveyancers do not get commission for undertaking searches or using insurance. Bearing in mind that at the moment Lenders in particular are trying to blame every negative equity on the conveyancer and not on their own bad lending practices conveyancers are feeling very nervous about where the next Professional Negligence claim could come from and some make the decision "get everyone to insure as much as possible regardless of the cost to the client so they don't blame me when it all goes wrong". I personally believe in informing the client of the risk, assisting them to assess the risk and then supporting them in whatever decision they make. I think I have only ever once used a policy!

robin

Who should pay for the insurance when a CRL arises ? Seller or buyer ?

I think it depends how keen the seller is to sell or the buyer is to buy. You could argue the issue with the other party, but if you decide you want it, given the relatively small amounts of money involved it hardly seems worth the effort and resulting delays.

Simon

Excellent article! I'm moving within Brighton at the moment, into the parish of a certain medieval church. Said church is undertaking ongoing extensive restoration work, including to its chancel. Given that this work is already well underway, funded so far by grants and that I am moving into a block of 20 flats, so any liability would be split at least 20 ways, I'm inclined to go fridge shopping too.

DebnRon

We are going to have a look at the local church and see if it needs repairing before making the decision to go fridge shopping !
Ron 21st April 2011 at 17:41

peter

what a fantastic article thanks for the informative read, we are selling our house and buying a new property and this issue has come up and i have refused on several occasions so far but they wont proceed until i cough up or sign a waiver of indemnity I have done extensive reasearch on this matter and love your article it is a scam but a legal scam still I am not paying it and I certainly will be going fridge shopping

Karl

I'm now facing this very problem as a potential buyer of a house with potential risk.

I'm considering doing a search of the archives to definitively get proof. However, as already mentioned, doing so may then force the land registry to be informed if indeed the property is within the chancel boundary.

Now here's where it gets a bit tricky. I could potentially ruin the vendors ability to ever sell the house just because I performed a search on it. They'll lose the ability to get insurance and reduce their chances of finding a buyer in future.

Surely there's something wrong with that.

Nancy

we have part exchanged our house with a national builder. they have refused to indemnify us for the house we are buying from them, but are insisting that we indemnify them for the house they are buying from us. hardly fair now is it.

P.J.Heslop

1 have just received a chancelcheck report that informs me the property i am thinking of purchasing is in a parish with potential for chancel repair to all churches in that parish and as most proerty are so in theory a £10.000 repair spread around the parish would cost more to collect than received from each landowner, my biggest fear is in 2013 that if only one or two home are pick on for registration are they then liable for the full £10.000 is there any control and by who

H. M. Marshall

There is an issue of principle here which should also be noted. Britain today is a secularist, multi-ethnic country and the notion of an "established" church is outdated. Leaving aside any financial consideration, a prospective buyer of a property that has turned up positive on a Chancel Check Search may not want, on principle, to become a "lay vicar"!

H. M. Marshall

....or even a "lay rector". (As I should have said in my earlier comment just posted!

Mr M Mathers

Hi All, maybe is has been mentioned here before, but please don't get ripped off with Chancel Insurance from Chancelsure, they are rip offs. I got mine for £15 and you dont even need a chancel check, saving you another £15 - unfortunately my solicitor insisted I had to get one through them. Then I found conveyancingdata.com. I do not work for them before anyone starts - they were very professional and informative on the phone, and when I eventually needed the policy, it was exactly £14.95!!! Save yourself £150+, get one from them, and by the way the underwriters are the same people - First Title.

Jonathon

I would question this article. Every house in England is in a parish so dont be surprsed when you are told that your new house is in a parish. The Church Of Engl;and has divided the whole ocuntry into afdministrative distrcits which ti calls parishes, so if you are in a parish that need not indicate that you may have a probelm.

I think there has been one case in 50 years on this so i think its aninsyrance compnay scam

R.Roe

Having been involved with a bit of research recently on this matter, I found out that Eastbourne and Bexhill on Sea are Boroughs, and are unparished. What is the liability in these areas, and who would collect any dues?

R.Roe: I would guess that if they're not in a parish, they couldn't be on glebe land, so they wouldn't have any possibility of chancel liability? But then again since parish boundaries can change over time, perhaps there could still be glebe land that used to be in a parish. I'm afraid I'm not an expert, just someone who doesn't think much of chancel liability insurance, so I'd say that if you're concerned at all it would be best to check with a solicitor or conveyancer.

Pcc Member

Glebe land is not the problem, as has been said such land is very difficult to trace accurately. In our Worcestershire parish the chancel repair liability(CRL) arises from an 18th century Enclosure Act. (One of 2300 such Acts of Parliament). The tithes ( 1/10th of crops)were extinguished by the Act in exchange for several hundred acres of common land. Part of the tithes had been used for the repair of the church chancel. The villagers no longer had to pay tithes but gave up part of their common land, the previous recipient of the tithes got land instead but he still had to repair the church chancel as part of the deal. Anyone owning any part of this previously common land takes on the CRL as well.
As the liability is classed as an "overriding interest" it did not have to be recorded on the Land Register. From October 2013, if it is not registered then after a subsequent change of ownership, the new owner is most probably no longer liable. (A minority view is that CRL only loses its pecking order with respect to other liabilities such as a mortgage). If there isn't a change of ownership then the existing owner remains liable after 2013. The PCC (parochial church council)can register after 2013 but it costs more.
PCC members are trustees so must look after the assets of their church, including the right to collect money to repair the chancel. The Legal Advisory Commission of the Church of England (LAC)has told them that if they do not seek out, register and impose CRL then the PCC members will suffer huge financial penalties themselves at the hands of the Charity Commissioners. The LAC has also said that they cannot refrain from doing so for reasons of a purely moral nature.
The central bodies of the Church has handed the problem down to each parish (5,200 have this CRL)without giving central advice or help to parishes. Some dioceses have help on their websites notably Rochester and Truro, both of which are excellent, however others such as Worcester give no help at all to their PCCs.
In addition to Enclosure Acts CRL can come through "rentcharges". Less easy to understand but explained on the above websites. CRL arising from enclosure is a joint and several liability this means that a PCC can pick any one landowner owning only a tiny part of the former common land that was exchanged and get the full payment for repair from him. He in turn has the right to recover from other similar landowners as best he can. (CRL arising through rentcharges is partly joint and several)
This joint and several aspect of CRL is most damaging when it comes to getting a new mortgage - how can a Building Society judge the value of a house that has an unknown size of CRL over it. Insurance is advised.
The Government cannot do away with CRL without paying compensation - Protocol 1 of the Human Rights Act. The Law Society in 2006 published their proposals for replacing CRL with a small addition to the Land Registry charge (which currently starts at £50)but the Church of Englnd has not taken this up yet. Perhaps some agitation is required.

Alicia Hawkins

We r waiting for conveyancing report as we speek...its all very confusing, IGNOR OR NOT IGNOR???? i KNOW the property is within a parish and was purchased a yr ago by a builder who has renovated it so,,,hopefully he has purchased the better of all insurances...if he has ignored it all WE COULD BE IN TROUBE AS LIABILITY IS KNOWN,,,i.ll let you all know how it pans out....

When we bought 4 years ago a CRL search was not carried out by our conveyancing people. Now we are selling and the issue has materialised via the buyers solicitors. Funny thing is that my wife and I are atheists!

Kamila

DO i have to pay(insurance)per month?per year or just one time?

I believe it's a one-off payment.

Tim Luckhurst-Matthews

As a solicitor of more years than I care to mention, I hope I can add a bit to clear up a couple of points, and make a couple of suggestions.

The Chancel Check Search is not expensive at around £18, and is definitely worth having. As to mortgagees not requiring Chancel Liability Indemnity Insurance cover in place, more often than not they do require it. You'd frankly be lucky to get a mortgage from a Bank presently without it as a specific requirement in the Instructions to Solicitors/Conveyancers.

The somewhat infamous case that lead to the furore about the issue is Aston Cantlow -v- Wallbank and there are several good summaries available if you Google the case name. There is however much confusion about the issue, which is hardly surprising when you read the average Chancel Search result which contains the following:
"The above building is located within the historical boundary of a tithe district within a parish which continues to have a potential chancel repair liability based upon historical parish boundary data and the relevant Inland Revenue Indices held by the National Archive."

The Wallbank case was decided on very specific and somewhat unusual issues and the chances of individual liability in similar amounts applying in towns and cities must be remote. Having said that, it would probably be verging on if not actually professional negligence if a solicitor advised his client specifically not to consider insurance cover as completely unnecessary with such a search result as above, but there are two points on this:

1 Do your homework, and I suggest you do this yourself. If you want your solicitor to do it, fine, but don't expect him to do it for nothing. What do I mean ? Well, quite simply if you're buying, do some research into the existence of the local parish church. Does it still exist at all, has it been sold off and converted into a restaurant or similar, or has it perhaps even been torn down and completely rebuilt in recent years. I've seen examples of each in recent months, and all in cases where the above wording appeared on the Chancel Search report.

2 If insurance cover is to be taken up, make sure your solicitor, conveyancer or whoever is doing the conveyancing has shopped around for quotes. It is a one off payment, but the premiums available vary considerably. Whoever's acting for you should already know who is likely to be the cheapest. And do get cover to include mortgagees and successors in title, in perpetuity - you won't save much in going for the cheaper purchaser only policy but, as one correspondent pointed out, what does that do for the value of your house if liability is subsequently established ? And no, to answer another correspondent on the point, the solicitor makes nothing from the policy.

I'm scratching the surface a bit on this whole issue as there are many more interesting points, but I hope these help.

As a last thought, you may be lucky and get a clear search report. I have in front of me as I post this a Chancel Certificate stating as follows:
"We hereby certify that, based upon historical parish and tithe district boundaries, third party data, and the relevant documentation found at the National Archives, the property is within a tithe district or Parish that has no record of risk of chancel repair liability."

The client didn't want me to do the search, but the mortgage instructions were specific. £18 well spent I'd say, in that case at least.

J.Brown

I have just been informed by my solicitor that the house I am buying MAY be affected by this. As an atheist I have NO intention of buying an insurance policy or giving the Church of England any money for repairs, I will be taken to prison screaming and cursing them, after all the church of England is one of the richest institutions in the country !! Nearly every letter I recieve is asking for money,I reckon by the time the house purchase is finalised the cost will have gone up by at least another 10%.Its making me ill.

Steve

This is, quite frankly, a misleading article. There is a very great deal of misleading information about CRL on the web. Certainly do NOT look at the Wallbanks webpage; they imply that costs of repairs could be up to 3/4 of a million pounds: NOT TRUE! They were billed for around £94,000: a huge amount, certainly, and I can promise you that such a large expenditure in one go is very unusual. They chose to fight against something that is the law, and they lost; that is where the rest of that sum arises.

Don't believe all the horror stories, speak to a competant solicitor, or phone up the diocesan registrar for your area (all registrars are long standing solicitors, whose are responsible for church matters in their area).

Steve

Also, you are only safe if the liability has not been registered at the FIRST SALE AFTER 2013. If the registered title does not change hands by, say, 2015, even the liability is NOT registered, it still stands until that land is sold, and it can be registered at any point until sale after the 13th October 2013.

Steve

Sorry, one more point(!):
the following links are hugely informative, and can point you in the right direction (also, the book "Chancel Repair Liability: How to Research It" is very good, if a little dull).

http://www.peterboroughdiocesanregistry.co.uk/chancels.html

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/research-guides/chancel-repairs.htm

http://www.stedmundsbury.anglican.org/assets/downloads/governance/DChancelRepairliability-V62.pdf

http://www.stedmundsbury.anglican.org/assets/downloads/yourchurch/DAC/chancel%20repair%20laibility.pdf

Read them all! They are very useful, and hopefully will show you that CRL is not the terrifying demon everyone makes out. With careful research, you will often find that, if any, any liability your property bears will often be neglibly small, if it is ever registered.

Thanks for your comments, Tim and Steve! I've updated the article to reflect your comments (notably about mortgage companies demanding insurance, and first sale after 2013).

J.Brown: I feel your pain, but if you think it's bad now, just wait until you have the house! They're money sinks! But they're our money sinks, which is why we love them so. Good luck!

Steve

Another point: the "unconfirmed reports" that the church has an army of solicitors working on this. Not true! The Church Commissioners have, I gather, a small team (I think of 2 people!) that is registering the liabilities on the Commissioners' land (which is mainly agricultural), and they are responsible at least in part for over 800 chancels in the country. Registration for a chancel that the Commissioners have no land liability attached to is solely the responsibility of the Parochial Church Council and any solicitors they choose to hire. The Commissioners (again, I'm not 100% sure about this) also have retained the liability for much land that they sold long ago, so your house might be lucky and not be affected after all!

Steve

(and the Wallbanks (the famous case) knew (in legal terms) about the liability, as Mrs Wallbanks ancestors had bought the land, and their was specific mention in the deeds that it was subject to chancel repair. Legally speaking, they owned the land in full knowledge of the blight of chancel repair.)

John H

As an anti-theist I am seething inside about this issue. These self-serving supernaturalists, whether a claim is made or not, continue to selfishly cause mental hurt and anguish to the thousands of people who buy and sell their home. And all over a piles of stone that are now largely ignored by the populus of the 21st century. Someone said this country was secular, it clearly is not, church and state are not seperate. If it were to become secular these anachronisms would be abolished once and for all.

A number of commentators appear to have misunderstood the scale of the problem.

It is correct that every property in England is within a Church of England parish, but not all parishes will have a chancel repair liability.

Very broadly, this will only apply in parishes which existed before the Reformation, so any new parish created since then (and a lot were created in the 18th and 19th centuries) will not have any liability.

Various estimates exist, including the estimate that 5,200 parishes are affected, out of about 16,000. Even then not all the land in these parishes carries the liability, only certain land (as discussed in earlier comments).

Another estimate is that 3,780,500 acres carry a potential liability, which is roughly 10% of the area of England.

I hope that this might put the issue in context.

As I understand the 2003 Regulations, anyone now owning land subject to chancel repair liability will retain that liability for as long as they own the property, whether or not the liability is registered at the Land Registry.

But on the first sale after 2013, a purchaser will take free of any liability unless it has been registered.

So the need for insurance will vary immensely, but I think that there is a clear conflict of interest in companies who carry out searches also trying to sell the insurance policies.

Will

If people want to get rid of this, it's the politicians who have to do it! Not the Church of England.

Chancel repair liability can only be abolished by Civil law.

And the PCCs who ask for this money are not "self-serving supernaturalists", who are legally bound by charitable status to pursue the best financial interests of their charitable body.

Phil

My understanding is that the main risk is joint and several liability. In other words the church need only chase the owner of one property -and there may be hundreds liable- and leave the owners of the property with the impossible task of recovering the money from the rest. Does the insurance cover the risk of the whole(and potentially unrecoverable) repair cost or only the bit applicable to a particular property? And does the "church/trustees" have the requirement to ensure that they list every liable property ( by 2013) so that in the worst case individual liability is small.

Helen

Really interested to read all this, we are buying a flat which this has been flagged on so I am currently digging around for the info. I was surprised by M Mathers comment about insurance against this for as litle as £15, but have looked into it further it does appear to be the solution to high costs. Sadly my solicitor had already done the search otherwise I would have just paid the £15 for cover and forgotten all about it, however for peace of mind £15 seems a small price to pay (bearing in mind the cost of a property!).
I have checked out the company on companies house and that the underwritters are registered with the FSA and all seems OK.

On researching CRL I discovered that the area where I live was granted an ancient charter dating back to the 17th century. Amongst the entitlements is one which gave the people of the area freedom from taxtaion. I bet I cant enforce that on today or perhaps it still stands, that would be great.

Ian

First title will only sell through a solicitor. My solicitor wants to charge £60+VAT as an intermediary for buying it. What is the way around this? This whole thing seems like a gravy train for someond!

Ian: That sounds about right for a solicitor - they charge for everything, which is fair enough. If you want liability insurance, your options would seem to be to buy it from someone else, or to try to find a cheaper solicitor. Sadly though, these sort of fees are often just the hidden price of buying a house.

Alan

As I am buying a house for the first time in 20 years I have become aware of this issue and googled to this article. What a joke.

I believe that the ancient law giving all citizens the right to trial by combat has not been repealed either. So if the vicar wants me to repair his walls and foundations then he had best sharpen his sword.

Mary

A requirement to pay for repairs to a religious building, when one does not belong to that denomination or that religion, is arguably in conflict with another law, that of religious discrimination. I don't think the relevant equality legislation was in force in 2003, but anyone facing these ungodly demands for payment now might try using it as a defence. If you're C of E, take care to undergo a conversion first, to any old religion - or any new religion - or none. And I would hope everyone facing such a demand for payment will protest as publicly as possible, preferably on the steps of St Paul's.

Dorothy Lopez

I agree with Rev Hawthorne -. it is monstrous that the church should enforce this rule and impoverish people.The Anglican parish church to which I belong is funded by the entirely voluntary giving of its members and friends

Annie Milanski

What happens if an old property is not registered with the land registry ? (ie we have the deeds for it.)
If we want to register it, in a new name, is it best to wait until after 2013 ?

D S Hellier

I would like to make the point that that it is the secular Charity Commissioners who have forced the Church of England to take this position. The Commissioners have stated that if the Parochial Church Council does not take action then any subsequent repair costs to the chancel, where there is a liability and the PCC do not register that liability, will have to be borne by the members of the PCC. Each church has a PCC and the members are all members of that church. They are responsible for the governance upkeep and dat to day runnong of the chhurch.

dawesy

I have just been made aware of this religious tax. So I wrote to the Archbishop( who said just accept it and pay up) my MP( who refered me on to the Chancelor and the Justice secretary) and the PCC(who have refered me on to the archdeacon) in the area I wish to move to.
Sad to report it was a complete waste of time effort and a stamp. They simply confirm all the negative comments as above. The get out is we all must insure ourselves against the ravages of a jelous god, wheather we believe or not.
The government and the Church have got us screwed.One way or another we are all going to pay for the disgusting habits of other people, so they can have a nice warm building to worship the invisible man up in the sky who watches our every move and will send people like me who think its all b*****s ,to imagenary place called hell where I will burn and suffer for my sins for all eternity.
Liked the artical though, it did raise a smile, a bit like the fella who claimed that if rape was inevitable, relax and enjoy it . Think I know what he was getting at!!!

dawesy

D S Hellier

Reading your article again there is one glaring mistake in the fourth paragraph. The amount due to the church was not 9/10ths but 1/10th.

Annie Milanski: I'm afraid that's probably one for a qualified legal professional to comment on!

D S Hellier: An interesting point about the Charity Commission, I hadn't considered that aspect. To clarify for other readers, my understanding is that each church is run by a PCC, each PCC is a charity in the eyes of the law, and as such the members of the PCC are <em>personally</em> liabile should they fail to act in the financial best interests of the charity - in this case, to chase chancel repair liability. This makes the position of a PCC who is registering liabilities a bit more understandable.

However, in 2007 the legal advisory commission of the Church of England did apparently advise PCCs that they could cite <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harries_v_Church_Commissioners_for_England">Harries v Church Commissioners</a> as a way of avoiding the registration, because by doing so they would alienate the community and harm the charity more in the long-run. They also note that Lord Scott in Cantlow v Wallbank <a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200203/ldjudgmt/jd030626/aston-1.htm">said</a>, "Trustees are not always obliged to be Scrooge." That said, it feels like the church could have been more supportive of PCCs - perhaps seeking a special agreement with the Charity Commission concerning this unique issue, whereby it would indemnify any members of a PCC which waived its right to chase chancel repair liability.

In response to your second comment regarding the amount due to the church, I had actually forgotten all about compulsory tithes when I wrote that sentence! My point was more that the medieval church made a link between donations and the likelihood of going to hell - quite explicitly in some cases, such as paying for indulgences - and the population believed it because that was all they knew. In that context, chancel repair liability may have made a bit more sense. My comment was intended as hyperbole, to highlight the contrast with today where only 15% of the UK population regularly goes to church, 30% don't believe in the christian god at all, and I would imagine that the number of people who believe that you can literally buy your way into heaven could be counted on one hand.

Mike Southwell

This CRL issue is now back in The Church Times, as well as the Daily Telegraph.As a former member of a PCC, I can only suggest that if any PCC is required to impose CRL on some unlucky home-owner, then a mass resignation should take place. That will effectively prevent this draconian law from being enforced. If enough PCCs resign, then, just maybe, the Church as a body will wake up to the reality of the injustice of this law. Perhaps we need another AMOS to deliver a message to the powers-that-be about justice and fairness

paul Elton

I am a member of a P.C.C. we have our quarterly meeting coming-up. CRL is on the agenda as members have been informed we MUST register liable property or become ourselves responsible for not doing what we have been instructed to do. One of two things will happen at the meeting; either all P.C.C. members will resign with immediate effect, or, a decision will be taken to spend our Common Fund assessment on solicitor's fees, doing the work which we do not understand how to do ourselves. How do either of these two actions help the C.of E? I can see this happening nationwide! Serve 'em right!

Ryan

I don't understand the outrage directed at this law. If anybody has a house on old parish land, that land was stolen by Henry VIII. It is stolen property that you're living on. The land should all be given back to the Catholic Church. The Chancel Repair Liability is a bargain compared to actually doing the right thing, giving the property back to its rightful owners.

dawesy

So where did the Catholic Church get the land from? can't remember seeing any bill of sale.

philip

Why on earth does the c of e not finance its own properties either through its own revenue or organising local vooluntary appeals(English Heritage could help with listed buildings). Some churches could be replaced with buildings cheaper to maintain. The compulsory nature of the chancel law seems terrible for the church's public relations.

Kay

My brother has received a notice of CRL for his 3 acres of farm land in a quaint hamlet that has a few houses, a pub & a church. Another land owner has considerably more acres than him & has also received the CRL notice. The brother is an atheist, I am a practising Christian. Non of that matters, this is the law of the land!
There are several points that need to be clarified here - please ad an addendum to the original article with some actual facts in it. Particularly about the numbers of potentially affected areas - there are a limited number of parishes that this can affect, the Pcc is made up of volunteers who cannot be expected to take on a personal liability for disobeying the law; but they can resign as a statement of moral outrage!

The Risk seems to be ignored by many people here commenting, the Wallanders took their case as far as the House of Lords and became bankrupt because of total costs, how many people can afford to risk everything financially? I certainly can't, my brother can't. Listen to the solicitors, do the research, learn all that you can - basic questions such as
1- was there a parish church here in the days of the reformation?
2- Is it still here? If it doesn't exist then you can't be liable for costs.
If it does exist then it will be worth paying for the insurance or buying somewhere else.

Amanda

Peter Luff MP has intervened on the behalf of the beleaguered parishioners of Broadway in Worcestershire and has done great and good work. It would seem that the PCCs will now be able to seek funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for repairs to the Chancel, this is a major change which is welcome news. PCCs please note.

Bob

The more I look into this, the more it appears to be a scam, and I wouldn't be surprised if one day it gave rise to an insurance miss-selling case.
Has there really only been one case of the church making an outrageous claim under this liability? Has anyone ever made a claim on their chancel repair liability insurance?

Bob

I just had a quote for a woodland that I am buying for £880 !!!!!

Mike S

I have just been hit by our PCC who are putting this clause onto my deeds and there seems to be no way to go against it. Does anyone out there know any different ?

Robin S

Why has this fact regarding the Lottery Fund not been made widely known ?

Amanda

Peter Luff MP has called for an adjournment debate in the House of Commoms on16th October, meanwhile the Diocesan Offices for my parish have sent emails to the Church Wardens reminding them to get on with registering the charges. Try Peter Luff's website for the report on CRL in the parish of Broadway in Gloucester.

Mike S

Thanks to a great tip from someone I am now not liable for CRL. This will not work for everyone but if you have a problem or just want to know all you have to do is look at the old tithe maps and the schedules at your local archives. If your property has an appropriators charge you could be liable but then see owned that land at that time, if it was church commissioners then contact them and ask them who is now liable. I have spent 10 weeks googling this CRL scam and not one mention of the church commissioners.

Anne

This has been a very interesting discussion. I am on the point of exchanging on my flat, however, the house I am supposed to be buying has just had this charge identified, so I am strongly deciding whether to buy or not - I would feel bad to pull out at this stage, however, can I risk being lumbered with a house which won't be sellable in the future, and potential requests for money? As for the solicitors, yes, they are asking for £20 admin charge and £100 for insurance cover!

Anne: A lot of properties in the UK have potential liabilities, so if your solicitor says you can make it go away for £120, then you may feel that is worth doing - you'll probably have the same problem with every other property you look at until October 2013.

Like I said in my original ramblings, not getting insurance is a gamble to some extent - so if you're worried enough to the point where you're thinking of pulling out over it, then that £120 would probably be money well spent on the insurance to buy peace of mind. And in the grand scheme of things when buying a house, it's pretty insignificant.

As ever though, if in doubt, chat it through with your solicitor - it's what he's there for, and unlike me not only will he actually know what he's talking about, but you can also hold him responsible if he gives bad advice ;)

Brian

I am surprised that any vicar is prepared to contemplate a repetition of the Broadway disaster in his own parish. Perhaps each member of the clergy could consider the following proposition:

(i) The Church of England is privileged to be the established church and in return owes a duty of care to the whole population regardless of sectarian interest.
(ii) A parish priest of the Church owes a similar duty of care to all his parishioners. It entails a duty of trust and confidence and an obligation to deal fairly with every parishioner.
(iii) The surreptitious imposition of an entirely unexpected charge in respect of a medieval tax which reduces the value of their homes and property is a gross dereliction of duty and a breach of that trust.

Alternatively, a Church of England vicar is a professional person and as such is expected to act professionally. A doctor has a duty of care to his patients, a lawyer to his clients and a vicar to his parishioners. Imposing the liability is hardly the action of a Good Shepherd.

Ben

Thanks for a great article. The only good thing about an abhorrent situation. I'm sure that there are many sensible and legal ways to cope with the Church's daylight robbery, but..... there is surely also a lesson to be learned from their vengeful god. If they steal from you, take up the bagpipes and practice in the chancel during every service you can get to.

Wasn't Jesus arrested for throwing the insurers out of the Chancel... just before he tried to burn it down?

Brilliant piece thanks it's the only analysis I could find on the net that makes sense of yet another insurance scam. I'm still being made to pay one third more in post 11/9 'terrorist' insurance because I live in a tall building in London... gravy train innit

Thank you Radiac for this 'diary' on CRL Like you we find ourselves in a similar situation in buying a house with 'potential CRL risk' Although we resent the insurance and solicitor admin fee, our real issue is that this archaic law still exists. We feel this archaic law should be abolished and have just set up a page on facebook https://www.facebook.com/chancelliability if the link doesn't work please look up People Against Chancel Liability. We are trying to raise awareness and support so that we can lobby for the law to be abolished. Please look at the page and if you agree then please 'like' the page (if you don't want to see in your newsfeed or notifications then just untick those on the drop down menu when you press 'like'. The importance of getting 'likes' is to get attention. Please feel free to share any of the info on the page with family/friends. Thank you.

Ketan

Hello,

Sorry after reading much of the above and is great to read, I still have a question.

I brought a property in March of this year 2013. Nothing came back from my solicitor to say it was on glebe land and to take out insurance.

The neighbour told me today his solicitor did pick this up about 4 years ago and he paid £60 for the insurance covering 25 years, I'm guessing he already had a fridge.

Now the question, the fact the property was sold to me and is prior to October 2013 and if it wasn't registered by the local parish by the time I bought, does that mean that this property is now exempt from this Church Repair liability?

Also, now that I have exchanged and I am the property owner, if I go back to my solicitor to see if the check was made or to make the check, do I give up my rights to take out the insurance if the check comes back positive as I've changed it from potential to definate liability? And in essence alert the land registry in the process and flag my property as being on glebe land bring the property value down as well bringing it up on the church parish's hit list?

Thanks

Ketan

Hi Ketan,

As usual, I'm not a lawyer etc, but I think the church could still register a liability - from what people have said here in the comments, it seems to be about who owns the property in October 2013 - the law change will only affect new sales after that, or something along those lines.

If you're worried about it, you could go back to your solicitor and ask them whether they performed a check; if they haven't, you may have grounds to go after them in the event of any trouble. I'm not sure whether you can buy the insurance after the sale has gone through, but you could always ask.

As for the potential/definite liability thing, the standard chancel check that solicitors do is for the potential liability, which is what the insurance company insures against. It seems to be "Is this house anywhere near a church? Yes! Money please!" Apparently to confirm a definite liability, you have to do some serious digging through the national archives at Kew; probably not something a standard check would throw up, so not likely to be something that would get you brought to the attention of the land registry or your local arsonist rector.

Daniel

The government in the UK is very much against any religion. Supporting CRL turns people away and against from religion and churches. The medieval law simply helps them achieve their result. Greediness of the church does not help either.

Andy

I've taken the view that it's up to the buyer to indemnify themselves, just like with every other form of insurance.

They can pay/waste their money as they choose :-)

I wonder how many cases there actually are of the church exercising this right?

Graham Barnes

Been looking at this insurance as the property I'm thinking of buying has a liability. I read on a solitor's website (cluttoncox) that improvement costs can be factored in to any claim, as apparently happened in THE case. I rang ChancelSure and asked them whether this was right - after a pause the reply was 'as long as it forms part of the repair'. I pressed it by suggesting that, say, the altar has been destroyed and an improved one is required costing (who knows?) £10000.
They'd cover that then?
Much longer pause followed by 'Ah - grey area'.
I wrote to them asking this question -
this question:
'Will the insurer settle all and any claims notwithstanding'

They referred me to their policy conditions which was no help, so I wrote again. No reply - nothing.
So it looks like we have a potential uninsurability, which to my mind renders the insurance valueless. I don't expect a reply because to admit that they may not pay all the claim ( if improvements are factored in) would have a detrimental effect on any insurances already issued.
Wonder if these policies will be the subject of the next round of mis-selling?

Penelope Wainwright

I think this is absolutely abominable. The Church is one of the richest organisations in the world and to force people to pay for Chancel Repairs to the Church and not care whether those people lose their homes in the process goes against everything that I thought the Church stood for as loving and caring. Absolutely disgraceful and if I was asked to pay they could go to hell where they belong. They could have be locked up but not a penny piece would they get from us.

Jason

So, here we are... 19th October 2013. Six days have passed since the 'deadline' and not a single mention of it in the news anywhere. Have people simply forgotten about CRL?

It would appear as though the solicitor we are using for a house purchase (not completed yet) is none the wiser. She's just recommended we take out liability insurance, which left me confused...

What's the deal with buying a property now? Surely it's now just a matter of doing a Land Registry Search to detirmine if the land (or any part thereof) that the property we're buying sits on, has been registered as Glebe land by the church. If yes, we're screwed 'cos there's no insurance in place but if not, we're in the clear?

Or can the church still slap an order on after the deadline, if they are made aware of the property/land by nature of a search having been made after the deadline?

Bearing in mind I am not a lawer, my understanding of the situation is that from now on the church has to have registered an interest with the land registry before you buy the property.

Until the property is sold, they can still register an interest - but that would show up on the land registry before the sale is completed, and I'd imagine that it's the solicitor's responsibility to notice that and advise you accordingly.

I think this should mean that there is no longer the possibility of a potential liability - there's either a liability registered on the land registry, or there isn't. The law change should mean that the ambiguity has gone - there's no longer a question of whether your property is on glebe land, and no longer a reason to trawl through ancient manuscripts in the national archives at Kew.

So given that the chancel liability insurance is to cover any potential liability, and there can no longer be a potential liability, I'm thinking that you'd now be buying insurance for something that can never happen.

I would be curious about what happens if the liability is registered between your solicitor doing their initial searches and you exchanging contracts. No idea what would happen there, although I'd imagine it would probably involve suing the seller for not disclosing that information during the process.

Ultimately though your solicitor really should be aware that the situation has changed, and should be able to explain to you why you still need liability insurance. If they can't explain it, either they need to go away and find out, or you need to find a better solicitor. If anyone has received any actual legal advice, please post what you've heard - it would be nice to finally conclude my article!

Bumpy

I have a very small plot of land which I have owned since 2002 and for which there may be a minor chance of getting planning permission many years from now. The Land Registry have now written to say that the Church have registered a CRL against the deeds. (NOT A CLAIM FOR MONEY).

The land is now blighted and I am resigned to loosing most, if not all, of its current value, but I would still like to hold on to it for my young grandchildren. Getting insurance now is just about impossible. So are there any ways of isolating myself from the churches greedy clutches.
Suggestions so far include. (1) Keep selling the land for £1 between friends and stay one step ahead of the church, who might get fed up chasing the claim and move elsewhere. (2) Sell the land for £1 to the poorest person I know. (3) Sell the land into a Limited Private Company, where it becomes the only asset. In this way, the most the church can get at is the value of the Company (land), which thanks to them is zero.

Bumpy: that really sucks. I'd talk to a solicitor about what to do next - I like the sound of option 3, but have no idea if it would work in the eyes of the law. If the value of the land really has dropped as a result of this though, it may be worth talking with an accountant to see if he can use the loss to reduce your tax liability.

Leave a comment