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Purchasing a house with a Chancel Repair Liability

edited 30 November -1 at 12:00AM in House Buying, Renting & Selling
20 replies 2.9K views
TN1984TN1984 Forumite
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edited 30 November -1 at 12:00AM in House Buying, Renting & Selling
I am in the process of moving, however, the land registry title for the property we are hoping to buy has a unilateral notice affecting the property in favour of the local church in respect of a liability to repair the chancel. It was registered in June 2013 (i.e. before the deadline).

I will obviously speak to my solicitor more fully as soon as I can, but when we chatted initially and he talked me through the searches and possible things that may come up, he mentioned chancel repair liability and it sounded like worst case I just had to pay for an insurance contract. It didn't sound too concerning at that time, but having now seen it is on the property and doing probably too much reading online, I must confess it is playing on my mind.

We really like the house we are hoping to buy (obviously or we wouldn't be buying it I guess) and I don't want to derail it if this is a silly non-issue. It has also taken us 2 years to find the right property. However, as I say above it is really worrying me.

I would really appreciate anything anyone can add on this and specifically the following:
    Is it actually a big deal? I've read a lot online about it, often referring to it being a 'possible liability', but here it has actually been registered, so it feels more likely to be a problem? I've bought the land registry plan for some other properties in the village too, and can only find one other property with it on, so it was quite a specific registration.
    Do the indemnity insurance plans have any history of paying out claims? If I can indemnify against it (the current owners already have a policy, so perhaps this can even be transferred?), and the insurance is airtight, I would be less worried. At the moment I can't find out much on claims history and whether the insurance contracts can actually be relied on.
    Will it put off most potential buyers in the future and/or have a big impact on future value?
    Are churches ever open to accepting a one off payment to waive any future entitlement? I have seen some comments on this forum on previous posts suggesting churches would not enforce the liability anymore, however, that doesn't seem guaranteed and clearly they registered this charge after the famous case in Warwickshire. If they are not going to enforce it anyway, surely a small sum to remove the liability would be better for them and allow me to buy peace of mind?

Thanks in advance for any guidance here.
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  • bouicca21bouicca21 Forumite
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    I spend a lot of time here warning about how useless chancel repair searches are and the way they throw up a massive percentage of false positives.


    But in your case it is registered and therefore a real risk. You probably won't be able to insure because it is a known risk. I assume you are in an area of the country where local solicitors know about this sort of thing? (Lots of solicitors know absolutely nothing about the subject).



    Is it the only property in the area subject to this liability or are there neighbouring houses? The liability attaches to plots of land that were once allocated for the support of the church, so it could be a cottage with nowt else on the plot or it could be a housing estate. In other words your house could be burdened with the total cost or with a fraction of the cost. If neither you are your solicitor know the answer to that it would be worth commissioning a proper search by someone who knows what they are doing.



    Of course you could go along and inspect the state of the chancel and do your own risk assessment. But IMHO the price of the house should reflect the risk (as it would have done up until this kind of responsibility got forgotten in a welter of legal changes).
  • TN1984TN1984 Forumite
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    bouicca21 wrote: »
    I spend a lot of time here warning about how useless chancel repair searches are and the way they throw up a massive percentage of false positives.


    But in your case it is registered and therefore a real risk. You probably won't be able to insure because it is a known risk. I assume you are in an area of the country where local solicitors know about this sort of thing? (Lots of solicitors know absolutely nothing about the subject).



    Is it the only property in the area subject to this liability or are there neighbouring houses? The liability attaches to plots of land that were once allocated for the support of the church, so it could be a cottage with nowt else on the plot or it could be a housing estate. In other words your house could be burdened with the total cost or with a fraction of the cost. If neither you are your solicitor know the answer to that it would be worth commissioning a proper search by someone who knows what they are doing.



    Of course you could go along and inspect the state of the chancel and do your own risk assessment. But IMHO the price of the house should reflect the risk (as it would have done up until this kind of responsibility got forgotten in a welter of legal changes).

    Thanks for the reply. I know my solicitor (as in it is not someone I have appointed just for this process) and trust him, however, I do not yet know if he has any really specific knowledge in this area. So far, we have just had a general chat about what searches he would do once he received the contract and other documents, but this conversation was before we were aware there was already a registered charge, so did not include too many specific details.

    I have done my own limited research and paid for a few plan titles on nearby properties, which indicates the neighbour one side (going away from the church) is not subject to the charge, nor is another property along a different road. The neighbour on the other side is however subject to the charge, which makes sense as I think the one we are trying to buy was built on land hived off from the neighbour in the 70s. There might be other properties also liable but I have only run a few searches so far; it's a really small village of I think 50-60 houses and several farms.

    I guess an inspection of the chancel could give me an idea of the likelihood of anything imminent, but that can presumably change in the future, and I would also be relying on someone else accepting the risk if I ever want to sell again in the future.

    As I write this out, a thought occurs as well. The mortgage lender will need to know about this as it is a charge over the property, and I presume they will insist on insurance, in which case if I cannot get insurance as it is a known risk, I think the decision will be out of my hands anyway? Though the vendors have confirmed they do have insurance currently.

    Have you ever heard of a church agreeing to accept £X as a lump sum to remove any charge/claim on the property in perpetuity? What really worries me is the uncertainty of it all and the anxiety it will cause me knowing it could jump up and bite me at any time, so if it could be ended with a sum of money, that would be very appealing, assuming I could actually afford whatever sum was required.
  • davidmcndavidmcn Forumite
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    The risk is tiny, the insurance covers it so you don't need to worry about it in the future. That's it, really. And policies typically are transferable, so if the sellers already have one then at most you might need to "top up" the amount covered to reflect the current property value.
  • bouicca21bouicca21 Forumite
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    In order to identify what other houses/plots are liable you need to go back to the documentation. It’s cheap in £ and time if you are near London or there is tithe map in your local record office. This tells you how to do it. It may sound complicated but it usually isn’t as long as you just follow it carefully.
    https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/chancel-repair-liabilities-england-wales/#ascertainment

    However, there is an easier way - the fact that the liability was registered in 2013 means that the local diocese hired someone to do that research for them. I would try asking them what they found.

    It’s worth remembering that the case that got everyone frightened involved a claim for considerably less than £10,000. It ended up costing more like £100k because of the legal costs of appealing all the way up the House of Lords.
  • Also, in that case of Aston Cantlow 2003, as I understand it the reason it came up was that English Heritage told the church they had to explore all other avenues before they would be eligible for a grant - and so the church were forced to pursue the chancel repair liability even if they might not have wanted to.

    EH have now decided that chancel repair liability doesn't count as an avenue that must be pursued before considering a grant, and so I'd expect a lot of churches are likely to try that route for funding as infinitely preferable to trying to get their parishioners to cough up (which might have been fine when it was the Lord of the Manor, but harder for an estate of retirement bungalows).
  • TBagpussTBagpuss Forumite
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    You should be able to get insutrance even thoughit is registered - it would only be if there was an actuial claim /demand from the church that you would struggle.

    So you / your solicitor need to check if the sellers policy can be transferred to you and of not, you will need to get a new one in place, but it should not be a major issue other than that.

    My understanding is that one of the reasons some parishes did register the liabilities was that it was suggested that if they didn't, they (typically the members of the Parish Council) might be personally liabl, the argument being that they have a fiduciary duty to look out for the best interests of the church and parish, and it was in those interests to secure the right to get payment from someone else... and as Perhaps says, there were also issues about whether other funding sources would be available if the church wasn't doing everything it could to get it's own funding.
    All posts are my personal opinion, not formal advice Always get proper, professional advice (particularly about anything legal!)
  • Owain_MoneysaverOwain_Moneysaver Forumite
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    bouicca21 wrote: »
    In other words your house could be burdened with the total cost or with a fraction of the cost.

    I am not a lawyer, but AIUI the liability is not limited pro-rata to individual houses but is joint and several, and the church has the option of pursuing any single householder for the full amount?
    A kind word lasts a minute, a skelped erse is sair for a day.
  • Robin9Robin9 Forumite
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    TN1984 - since the Aston Cantlow case there isn't a church in the land that will pursue chancel liability.

    As a Church we registered our liability in 2013 but have no intention of implementing any claim.

    Can you imagine if say an estate of 100 houses all with identified liability - how would the church pursue this if say just one said "take a running jump"?
    Never pay on an estimated bill
  • alanobrienalanobrien Forumite
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    Its very common and no big deal. Insurance through our solicitor cost approx £20.
  • bouicca21bouicca21 Forumite
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    Robin9 May be right, especially if EH have changed their policy, but some diocèses hired researchers to explore the records and register a claim. The fact that this claim was registered in 2013 means that this was one of the dioceses that took steps to research the obligation and suggests that at least in 2013 it was prepared to pursue a claim.

    The bible on the subject is a book by James Derriman, Chancel Repair Liability.

    But I am serious about approaching the diocese and/parish council. They can tell you what they have found and whether they have a policy of pursuing claims. When my ex bought his house he discovered that the diocese had put in writing that they would not pursue a claim. His property wasn’t liable anyway, but it was interesting to discover the policy.
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