What is a chancel repair liability search?

Fri 25 Jul 2014 by Lorraine Imhoff

Written by Lorraine Imhoff

Understandably, many buyers are puzzled when their solicitor suggests this search.

A chancel repair liability search checks that you won’t be liable to pay for the maintenance of your local church

Some homes are subject to a liability to contribute towards the costs of maintaining and repairing the local parish (Church of England) church.

Repair bills can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, so buyers will want to make sure that the property they are buying is not affected.

The basis for this liability is complicated, and rests on law dating back many centuries. However the courts have recently held that churches do still have the right to enforce payment from the owners of affected homes.

This can be so even when no demands have been made for many years.

Owners whose homes are subject to this liability can be made to pay towards church repair bills, even if they have no connection with the church and whether or not they are religious.

The property doesn't even have to be close to the church

A property may be some distance from a church, and still be affected. 

This liability did not have to be recorded on property titles. So someone could buy a home and subsequently receive a demand from a church for major repair costs, which they would have known nothing about. 

It has therefore been customary for Conveyancing Solicitors to have a search carried out to check if a property is in the parish of a church dating back to the fifteenth century or before, where there could be a potential liability.

From October 2013 churches will generally have to register a notice against the titles of affected properties at the land registry, so the need for this search will be reduced. Nevertheless a search may still be considered necessary when a seller’s title is not yet registered. 

The current state of the law on chancel repair liability is complicated and uncertain, so there may be other circumstances where a search will be desirable.

Chancel searches are not expensive thankfully, usually in the region of £20.

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