PCCs given liability warning

03 August 2012

SAFFRON BLAZE

PCC asset? St Eadburgha's, in Broadway, Worcestershire, where questions have been raised over chancel-repair liability

PCC asset? St Eadburgha's, in Broadway, Worcestershire, where questions have been raised over chancel-repair liability

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 office."

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".

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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

 

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