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Next week, buyers have less to beware about chancels

11 October 2013

SHUTTERSTOCK

On the money: a Henry VIII groat,c. 1526-1544 

On the money: a Henry VIII groat,c. 1526-1544 

PROPERTY sold after this weekend will be free of any liability for repairs to medieval and earlier church chancels unless the right has been registered by the relevant PCC.

Chancel-repair liability (CRL) arose under Henry VIII's church reforms, when rectorial land was transferred to secular landowners together with an obligation to fund repairs to a chancel. The obligation remained tied to the land as an "overriding interest".

In 1994, Gail and Anthony Wallbank took legal action to fight a £95,000 bill to repair the chancel at St John the Baptist, Aston Cantlow, in Warwickshire (News, 2 October 2009). They lost the case, but, in response, the Government passed legislation giving churches ten years to register CRL rights with the Land Registry. That deadline falls this weekend.

Churches will still be able to register the liability on a property, but only if it has not been sold after midnight on Saturday night. CRL will be unenforceable on any land sold after that date, unless the liability has been registered before its sale.

The Land Registry estimates that 89 PCCs have lodged 601 applications to register CRL against registered land, and 95 cautions against first registration of unregistered land. Legal advice from the Church of England warned PCC members that they could be personally liable if they failed to protect the church assets by registering the liability.

Earlier this year, in response to a campaign by Peter Luff, MP for Mid Worcestershire, the Charity Commission revised its guidance in order to make it clear that PCCs could legitimately decide not to register CRL if they believed that doing so would harm their mission and ministry.

The process continues to attract complaints. Last month, the PCC of Crowle with Bredicot, in Worcestershire, wrote to affected homeowners giving notice of intended registration.

One homeowner, Judith Holden, replied that registration would "make it impossible for me to sell my property. I have no income beyond my pension. I have no assets beyond my house. I could not raise finance on my property to satisfy any future claim the PCC may make."

Saturday's deadline applies not just to CRL, but to all overriding interests, including manorial and mineral-extraction rights. The Church Commissioners hold mineral interests in more than 500,000 acres across England. The Commissioners' chief surveyor, Joseph Cannon, said that the process of registration "does not create any new rights or interests, and is confined to researching and properly registering and defending the Commissioners' existing rights and interests".

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