PAROCHIAL church councils that fund chancel repairs without
securing funds from a lay rector could be guilty of a breach of
trust, with "serious consequences" for PCC members, Neville Rowles,
a conveyancing solicitor with the Manchester-based law firm Boote
Edgar Esterkin, has suggested.
He warns: "Members of the PCCs concerned could be open to a
claim for reimbursement for the funding that they failed to secure
from the lay rector. They could also face an inquiry by the Charity
Commission, which could, in practice, lead to their removal from
After a change in the law, PCCs have until midnight on 12
October 2013 to notify the Land Registry of a caution against first
registration, or a notice on an existing registration. If they fail
to do so, the right to charge repairs to the lay rector will lapse
once the land is next sold.
Many clerics believe that the liability is a relic, and that
enforcing it will harm the Church's mission; but the General
Synod's legal advisory commission warns that PCCs "are not free to
give effect to obligations of a purely moral nature".
In a guidance note, it says: "The right to enforce chancel
repair liability is vested in the PCC of the parish concerned. The
right to enforce chancel repair liability therefore effectively
represents an asset of the PCC."
Parishes that seek to register chancel-repair liability are
finding that it has an adverse effect on their relationship with
parishioners. One such parish is Broadway with Wickhamford, near
Evesham, in Worcestershire, which is facing a backlash from
parishioners after it wrote to affected residents to let them know
that it would be registering a liability.
The newly installed Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Michelle Massey,
held a public meeting last Friday to explain the church's position.
"It's affecting their health," she says. "They are not sleeping
through stress and worry. . . It's a horrible situation for the
parishioners to be in." But they understood, she said, "that the
PCC didn't have a choice with this".
She says that the issue is affecting the church's mission.
"They'll come and talk to me about this, but, for anything else,
their doors are closed. They feel that the church is taking their
livelihoods, and all that they have worked for, off them. It's
putting a block to any mission and outreach, and it's damaging the
reputation of the church."
The PCC is now one of "many" that is seeking permission from the
Charity Commission to disregard the "asset", on the grounds that
pursuing its financial rights will hamper the church's ability to
carry out its mission by turning parishioners against it.
The Charity Commission says that it is happy to provide advice,
but says: "The right to enforce the liability is an asset of the
PCC - the charity. It follows that, if an obligation to repair a
chancel actually exists, it should be appropriately managed in
furtherance of the charity's purposes. This does not mean that it
has to be enforced in every case, but it should be appropriately
managed. What this means will depend on the particular
circumstances in each case."
For the Church of England's guidance notes on chancel-repair
liability, visit www.churchofengland.org/about-us/structure/churchlawlegis/guidance.aspx