Chancel Repair Liability – time for reform?

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Chancel repair liability is an ancient liability that is attached to land in parts of England and Wales. The purpose of the liability is to fund repairs to the chancel of a local church. It is not possible to deduce liability or risk on the basis of proximity to a church, and the liability may not be obvious from the title deeds.

Under the Land Registration Act 2002 (LRA 2002) chancel repair liability is no longer an overriding interest and it was not intended to bind buyers of land after October 2013, unless protected on the register.

However, since the LRA 2002 questions have been raised about the legal status of the liability, and whether buyers are, in fact, still bound despite the LRA 2002.

If a buyer purchases a property that has not been transferred for valuable consideration since 13 October 2013, there is a risk that that the church may lodge a notice of chancel repair liability at any time right up until completion takes place.  It is common practice to carry out a pre-completion priority search which will guard against an attempt to register chancel repair liability between exchange and completion.  Even so, if a notice of chancel repair liability is lodged during this time,  Land Registry standard practice is to add the notice to the register as soon as the transfer is completed.  The buyer will be given notice of this and will have to contest it in order to get it removed.

Therefore, reliance should not be placed on what is recorded in the official register and it is advisable to take out a chancel check and, where necessary, obtaining insurance as there is no guarantee that the notice will be removed.

Last month, the Law Commission selected chancel repair liability as one of its’ projects to review over the next three years.  The Law Commission will aim to “close the loophole” and provide legal certainty, so that buyers of land after 2013 are not bound by chancel repair liability unless protected on the register. This should hopefully eliminate the current standard practice of buyers searching and insuring against the risk of liability, which costs an estimated £20 million each year.

Meaby&Co Solicitors LLP can advise you on all property matters. Please contact Zahra Shah (zshah@meaby.co.uk) for more details.

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