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chancel repair liability

Chancel repair liability is a liability on some property owners in England and Wales to fund repairs to the chancel of their local medieval-founded Church of England parish church or Church of Wales church.

At tm we have a number of searches available to help you understand whether or not your clients land / property is affected by Chancel repair liability.

Chancel repair search FAQs

What is a Chancel?

This is the area around the church altar where the rector (parish priest) officiates. It is often separated from the nave (where the congregation sits) by steps, railings or a screen. The chancel generally constitutes less than 20% of the footprint of the church.

What is Chancel Repair Liability?

This is an historical liability requiring the owners of land which formerly had tithe responsibilities given by the local church, to continue to pay for or contribute towards the cost of any repairs to the chancel. This ancient interest benefits some 5,200 pre-Reformation churches and could affect up to 500,000 properties in England and Wales.

What if there is no mention of Chancel Liability on the Title Deeds?

Under the Land Registration Act 1925, chancel repair liability became an "overriding interest" on property. This means that the liability does not need to be registered on Title Deeds or with the Land Registry, but is still legal and enforceable. In other words, you may have a liability without knowing it!

In 2007 a landmark legal case was finalised at the House of Lords and as a result, the owners of a property subject to chancel repair liability were ordered to pay nearly £189,000 to their local parish church for repairs. They also had to pay several hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees.

Is the law going to change?

Recognising the need for the law to be clarified, on 13 October 2003 the Government made a Transitional Provisions Order that preserves the status of chancel repair liability within the land registration system for a period of 10 years. This took effect when the Land Registration Act 2002 came into force on 13 October 2003. After 12 October 2013, the liability will only bind new owners of registered land if it is protected by an entry in the land register.

In the meantime, the primary way to determine whether a property is likely to be liable is for a Personal Chancel Liability search to be carried out at the National Archives in Kew. Enquirers are however strongly recommended to check the deeds, the Land Registry and current landowners for any other relevant information.

What is a Parish in the context of Chancel Repair Searches?

This is the ecclesiastical parish which existed at the time of the Tithe Act 1836 and not necessarily the modern day district around a church. It may range some distance from the church and its name may or may not be the same as the tithe district in which it is located.

How is a personal chancel liability search carried out?

When a personal search is carried out to determine chancel repair liability a check is made in a document called the Record of Ascertainments. However this document does not record some situations where liability can still exist, notably:

  • Where all the tithes in a parish were converted into corn rents
  • Where some tithes in part of a parish were converted into corn rents
  • Where under an Enclosure Act lands were allotted in lieu of tithes

What are the Records of Ascertainment?

Following the Tithe Act 1936 tithe rent charges were rationalised and the Records of Ascertainment are the official documents which list those parishes and plots of land where chancel repair liability continues to exist. A search in the Records of Ascertainment will help to identify the likelihood of liability in respect of a given property, as well as the proportion of the total cost to be paid in respect of each liable property. The actual amount to be paid cannot be known until repairs are carried out and their cost established.

What is a Tithe?

The tithe was an annual payment of an agreed proportion (originally one-tenth) of the yearly produce of the land which was payable by parishioners to the parish church, to support it and its clergyman. Originally tithes were paid „in kind‟ (wool, milk, honey, fish, barley, etc).

What are Enclosure Awards?

Enclosure Awards arose between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries when open land and fields were enclosed and divided up ready for development. From the early eighteenth century this was affected under the powers conferred by an act of parliament stating which parcels of land should be allotted to whom. If a rector had received tithes from such land that was to be enclosed, he could give up such right in return for allotments of this land. These then became part of the rectorial property and the owners of such land became liable for the repair of the chancel. Such rectorial land was and is not necessarily situated in close proximity to a church building.

What are Corn Rents?

Corn Rents are defined as money payments in lieu of tithes created at the beginning of Charles II reign usually during the enclosure of common lands. When such corn rents were allotted to rectors in lieu of tithes (rather then being payable to them out of land to be enclosed) the recipients became liable for Chancel Repairs.

What is a Special Award?

Where agreement as to liability could not be reached between the tithe owners and land owners in a parish, the tithes were commuted under a Special Award into rent charges and not actually apportioned. However, in some cases, a liability did continue and the land involved was identified by acreage and the name of the owner at that time only, and not by plot numbers. This makes present day identification of liable land extremely difficult in such parishes.

What should I do if Chancel Repair Liability is confirmed for the property?

You may wish to consider insurance as an option however insurers may require confirmation that no enquiries of the church have been made regarding chancel repair liability.

The Land Registry Practice Guide 15 (December 2005) advises that the result will have to be registered as an overriding interest and the documentary evidence disclosed. This in essence puts the church on notice.

Reference: Chancel Repair Liability: How to Research It; James Derriman, Barry Rose Law Publishers Limited 2005

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