Chancel repair liability – an ongoing issue?

Due to a historic quirk of English law, certain properties located in the vicinity of a medieval parish have an obligation to pay the cost of repairing the chancel of the parish church; often costing many thousands of pounds. The law changed on 13 October 2013. However, landowners and prospective purchasers should not assume that chancel repair is now a non-issue.

Last October’s change in the law was designed to ensure that purchasers of registered land would not be bound by chancel repair obligations unless the right to demand payment from the landowner had been protected by the entry of a notice at the Land Registry.

However, where a transfer of land is made for no valuable consideration (e.g. a gift, an inheritance or following an insolvency), the new landowner will continue to be bound by chancel repair obligations, even where these have not been not been protected by a notice.

Previously it was common to obtain chancel repair indemnity insurance where records indicated that a property was within an area which had a potential chancel repair liability. This remains good practice where a property is not transferred for valuable consideration.

Furthermore, the latest guidance produced on this issue by the Land Registry indicates that a notice purporting to protect a chancel repair obligation can still be entered on the registered title to a property, even where that property has been transferred for valuable consideration since 12 October 2013. It is possible for the landowner to then apply to the Land Registry to remove such a notice. However, this can be a costly and time consuming process.

The treatment of transfers for no value and the Land Registry’s latest guidance on chancel repair notices mean that, for the time being, chancel repair liability continues to be a relevant issue for property owners to discuss with their legal advisers.

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