Has chancel repair liability been abolished?
On 12 October 2013 the law changed to require the Church of England to register against registered titles.
Why does it matter?
In a series of cases starting in 1994, the Church of England successfully established that owners of property could be liable to pay towards the cost of maintaining the chancel of the local church. In one case, an unlucky homeowner was required to pay £95,000 towards the cost of repairs and a £200,000 legal bill. The liability is to maintain the chancel in a wind and waterproof condition and it affects all types of property, whether residential or commercial.
Most land in England and Wales is registered. As such, any right affecting the land is set out on the Land Register and is apparent to owners and purchasers. The problem with chancel repairs is that they fell into a group of interests termed as overriding interests or interests which override, which were not required to be registered. The traditional way of discovering the existence (or absence) of a liability was to make a search of ancient records through an agent or to insure against the possibility that the liability existed.
From 12 October 2013, a purchaser of land for value without notice of such a right will take free of it. Classically, this would mean that a purchaser of property who did not know there was an existing liability would take free of it. This means that any conveyancer acting for a purchaser for value can now check the Land Register and provided an updating search is made immediately prior to completion to ensure that the rights do not exist, then they will take free from it. However, there are certain cases where land is not registered for which the potential liability will continue to exist and transfers of land which are not for value will also continue to be potentially affected by unregistered chancel liability. In these cases, the option of a search or insurance remains available, or if complete extinguishment of the right is required then a purchase for value might be considered.