Lawyers to review advice to PCCs on chancel repairs

31 August 2012

SAFFRON BLAZE

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 support".

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 case shows".

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.

 

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