Understandably, many buyers are puzzled when their conveyancing solicitor suggests a search for chancel repair liability.
This search checks that a buyer won't be liable to pay for the maintenance of the local church, a practice that dates back to the 16th century and Henry VIII's establishment of the Church of England.
Some homes are subject to a liability to contribute towards the costs of maintaining and repairing the local parish church.
Costs can run into thousands
Repair bills can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, so buyers will want to make sure the property they are buying is not affected.
Homeward Legal's expert team can talk buyers through what a chancel liability search will do. You can call us seven days a week on .
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, 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, regardless of whether they have any connection with the church and whether or not they are religious.
Property doesn't have to be close to church
A property may be some distance from a church and still be affected.
Chancel repair liability did not have to be recorded on property titles, meaning someone could buy a home and subsequently receive a demand from their local parish church for major repair costs, which they know nothing about.
To mitigate the risk, conveyancing solicitors order a search to be carried out that checks whether a property is within the parish of a church that dates back to 1536 or earlier. These ancient churches are most likely to carry a potential liability.
Parishes must register interest
From October 2013, churches generally had to register a notice against the titles of affected properties at the land registry, so the need for this search has been reduced for many properties. 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.
Search is inexpensive
Chancel searches are not expensive, usually in the region of £20.
Call Homeward Legal on or use our no-obligation quote system to see how much your chancel repair liability search will cost.
*This article was first published on June 12, 2012 and updated on May 2, 2019.