Gary Rycroft column

Gary Rycroft.
Gary Rycroft.

Chancel Repair liability is an ancient law causing modern anxiety.

It rears its ugly head in the context of conveyancing - selling and buying land.

This perfidious law first came to prominence back in 2003 when a Mr and Mrs Wallbank lost an appeal in the House of Lords against a demand to repair the Chancel of a medieval church at Aston Cantlow, in Warwickshire, with the outcome Mr and Mrs Wallbank were forced to sell their farm in order to fund the Chancel repair.

This seems incredible in today’s secular world, but it is true enough in law.

The law derives from medieval times when the Church owned vast swathes of land.

The occupiers of church land paid a tithe to the church to provide for the upkeep of the church and part of the tithe income was used towards the upkeep of the Church Chancel (the part of the church which includes the altar and choir stalls).

Parliament abolished tithes many years ago, but the potential for Chancel Repair liability remains.

The body entitled to enforce a Chancel Repair liability is the Parochial Church Council (PCC) of the Parish concerned.

My own view is that it would be public relations disaster for a PCC to issue a demand to anyone who is so liable, but there is a risk that PCC’s will not agree with me on that one.

The current legal position is that for land already registered at the Land Registry, only a potential Chancel Repair liability registered as an “over-riding interest” before October 12, 2013 is enforceable.

I am not aware of local PCC registering such interests but if you have had a notice from the Land Registry I would be interested to hear from you.

As an aside, I gather St. Cuthbert’s Church in Lytham issued a considerable number of Notices which have now been withdrawn.

The position is different if your house deeds have not yet been registered at the Land Registry and in that case there is a strong argument for voluntary registration of the deeds.