Round two: Chancel Repairs Bill 2015

On 3 June 2015 the first reading of the Chancel Repairs Bill 2015 took place in the House of Lords. Lord Avebury’s Private Members’ Bill to abolish chancel repair liability in England takes substantially the same form as the Bill debated earlier this year.

Chancel repair liability is a legal obligation on some property owners in England and Wales to pay for certain repairs to the local parish church. Since the judgment in Wallbank & Anor v PCC of Aston Cantlow & Wilmcote with Billesley, Warwickshire (2003), purchasers of land had routinely taken out insurance against having to pay chancel repair liability.

The Government has previously sought to tackle chancel repair liability and the element of surprise in the Land Registration Act 2002, however the principal limitation is that it now only applies to properties sold since October 2013 (see our previous post). All property which has not been sold since October 2013 continues to dwell under a cloud of uncertainty – due diligence searches can tell a buyer that a property is within a chancel repair liability area but not whether an individual property is actually affected.

The Chancel Repairs Bill 2015 is a bill to make provision for ending the liability of lay rectors for the repair of chancels, and for connected purposes. During the last debate Lord Avebury said that there was a consensus that reform of the law on chancel repairs was long overdue. He cited discussions with the Church, the Law Commission, the Law Society, The Country Landowner’s Association and the National Secular Society. It has been noted that the state already contributed hugely to the upkeep of churches through such measures as Gift Aid, the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme and the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

Following the debate of the last Bill it was stated “that the Government have no plans to change the law at present”. As this Bill takes substantially the same form as the previous its chances of moving forward are limited. Reform in this area might not be straightforward as abolition may lead to compensation because chancel repair liability was a property right protected by the Human Rights Act 1998 as confirmed by the House of Lords.

The first reading of the Bill is a formality which signals the start of the Bills journey through the House of Lords. The Second Reading –the general debate on all aspects of the Bill is yet to be scheduled.

Please follow this link to where we previousy posted on the subject.

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