CHURCH lawyers are to review their advice to PCCs on Chancel
Repair Liability (CRL), after the case in Broadway, Worcestershire,
where the Charity Commission ruled that it would be "reasonable"
for the parish not to register liability against 30 householders (
News, 24 August).
Under recent legislative changes, PCCs
have just over a year to register CRL against affected properties;
otherwise, the right to pass on the costs of repairs to a church's
chancel will lapse when such properties next change hands. But many
clergy think that the ancient property right is unjust - especially
where the land attracting the liability has moved from wealthy
corporate landowners to unsuspecting private householders.
The original advice, issued in October
2007 by the Legal Advisory Commission of the General Synod, said
that parishes could apply to the Commission for approval not to
register liability, where it could be shown that to do so would
"hamper the PCC's work, either by adversely affecting its ability
to pursue its object of promoting in the parish the pastoral
mission of the Church, or by alienating potential financial
But it also stated: "PCCs which
believe themselves to be entitled to the benefit of chancel repair
liability are encouraged to register their interest at HM Land
Registry in order to be able to enforce it." When warned of the
difficulties of obtaining a dispensation, it suggested that "a PCC
would be well advised to seek legal advice before forming a view
that it would not wish to register a notice of, or enforce, a
liability to which it is entitled."
PCCs that decide not to register CRL
without obtaining the authority of the Charity Commission could
find themselves in "breach of trust", and personally liable for any
future repair costs.
The MP for Mid Worcestershire, Peter
Luff, who is now seeking a national approach to remove the
potential "explosion" that CRL could cause, has criticised the
guidance: it "would have led any reasonable PCC to conclude it had
no choice but to register the liability, and this is simply not the
case, as the advice from the Charity Commission in the Broadway
In response, the C of E's chief legal
adviser, Stephen Slack, argued that many PCCs found "the detailed
account of the relevant legal principles" helpful in "reconciling
their conflicting responsibilities in this difficult area, but we
shall be talking to the Charity Commission about whether any
additional guidance can be produced".
The original legal advice warns that
bodies such as English Heritage might not fund repairs to chancels
where a PCC has decided not to register CRL. Mr Luff said that he
was making "strong representations" to the Heritage Lottery Fund,
which will assume responsibility from English Heritage next year
for funding repairs to listed churches. PCCs "should not be
penalised by funding institutions", he said.