Beware the dreaded Chancel Repair Liability

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This article was published in Blackmore Vale Magazine on 24 June 2014.

Soon, many of you will be posing in front of beautiful churches at a family or friend's wedding, but have you ever stopped to wonder about the poor parishioners living in the shadows of the steeple?

As you are waiting for the beautiful bride to arrive, take a glance above your head. You might see some striking stone work or spectacular wooden beams, but above that could lie dilapidated structure in need of repair. What's that to me, you might wonder? Answer: the dreaded Chancel Repair Liability.

Whatever your religion, if your home is subject to this liability, you are 'jointly and severally' liable to bear the cost of repair. Ouch! The cost is split between subject houses. The local Parochial Church Council (PCC) can seek to recover the cost from any or all of those homeowners. In 2003 Mr and Mrs Wallbank objected to such a demand and fought it through the courts all the way to the House of Lords where they lost and had to pay approximately £250,000 (not to mention their - very reasonable - legal costs).

The House of Lords threw the public a lifeline in referring to the Land Registration Act 2002 and stated that the PCC needed to have registered their interest against a specific house by 13 October 2013. But even this deadline is full of caveats that I won't bore you with dear reader.

Suffice to say hold back from throwing the confetti just yet. With many churches burdened with structural frailties, locals should be prepared against the potential liability to pay. So whether you are buying or are already on the property ladder, it may be sensible to get the risk assessed by doing a chancel search.