A Bill has been introduced to the House of Lords based on a draft proposal by the Law Commission about chancel repair liability dating from 1985.
Lord Avebury is seeking to abolish the medieval law of chancel repair liability where home owners can be made to pay for repairs to the chancel of ancient parish churches.
The Chancel Repairs Bill:
The law as it stands affects thousands of home owners across England, many of whom have received notifications in the last ten years that their properties have been registered by the Church of England as being liable for contributions towards church repair costs.
There is no accurate count of how many properties are liable but it is thought that something like 10,000 titles have been registered across many parishes. It is also likely that many more properties besides those already registered are potentially liable.
This Private Members’ Bill has now been presented by Lord Avebury following research and discussions with the National Secular Society, an organisation that has long been campaigning for abolition of this ancient law.
Originally chancel repair liability was an ecclesiastical liability which came under the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts, until in 1932 it was transferred to the civil courts.
Because of the on-going liability this ancient law imposes open ended liability on home owners or land owners for any property that’s registered. Once registered, a home or land will have its resale value affected, so much so that some properties with this liability attached could be virtually unsaleable.
Although it is possible to take out insurance against chancel liability when purchasing a property, this is not always straightforward and will obviously depend on the existing potential for liability.
Tithe Maps and the Church Accounts give an indication of which properties may be affected. In some areas whole suburbs appear on the tithe maps, so several thousand houses in some areas of the country may affected.
However, appearance on a tithe map does not always confirm liability; only rectorial land is liable – this was traditionally land which was set aside for the church rector to generate an income for him to live on and to discharge his responsibilities. These responsibilities included repairing the chancel of the church. Therefore only a small proportion of any parish would be rectorial land.
Trying to discover if your house is affected is often as difficult for the church authorities as it is for the house owner, unless it is already on your deeds.
Despite the Law Commission and Law Society having recommended abolition, and the Church’s Synod supporting abolition in 1982 the church authorities still pursue individuals for money for repairs.
One fairly recent case in particular, which is enough to put the fear of god into those potentially liable, though perhaps this is an extreme example, is the Wallbank one.
The Wallbanks, who not only fought to defend themselves, but also hoped that contesting the Church’s unfair and unchristian demands on Human Rights grounds would lead to a repeal of the unjust and archaic law.
Unfortunately for them the church authorities pursued the matter through the legal system ultimately to the House of Lords, where the Wallbanks lost and ended up with a bill of £500,000. www.chancelrepair.org/2.html