The liability of some landowners to contribute to the cost of repairing the chancel of a parish church.
Note that Parochial Church Councils may still register any subsisting chancel repair liability against affected land in their parish after 12 October 2013, if they wish to secure the liability for the future. Registration will now, however, attract a land registry fee of £40. If the property has been the subject of an application for first registration of title or a registrable disposition for value since 12 October 2013, the property will no longer be bound by chancel repairing liability unless the liability has previously been registered against the land by means of a caution against first registration or a notice. See below for more detail.
The liability of some landowners to contribute to the cost of repairing the chancel of a parish church has become a ‘live’ legal issue in recent years for several reasons. First, the decision of the House of Lords decision in the case of Aston Cantlow PCC v Wallbank  UKHL 37 made it clear that this historic liability could still exist, and could impose a very significant cost on landowners in some cases.
Secondly, following a review of the law by the Law Commission in the 1980’s, the Land Registration Act 2002 (as amended by the Land Registration Act 2002 (Transitional Provisions) (No 2) Order 2003) has clarified and amended the law. Parochial Church Councils (PCCs) whose churches may benefit from existing obligations on the part of local landowners to contribute to the cost of chancel repairs should be aware of the changes introduced by this legislation.
The liability to contribute to the cost of chancel repairs does not affect every parish, or every landowner. The liability attaches to land which has been ‘rectorial’ property at some stage in the past. This included glebe land and tithes, which were property held by the rector of a parish to support himself and out of which he was to discharge his liabilities, including his liability to keep the chancel of his church in repair. In many cases this type of property passed into lay ownership following the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII under the Suppression of Religious Houses Act 1539. Other property became rectorial property, or property to which chancel repair liability attached, later on, sometimes through an award made under an Enclosure Act, or through compositions of liabilities to pay tithes under the Tithe Act 1836 or later Tithe Acts, or through the operation of the Tithe Act 1936, which extinguished various classes of tithe rentcharge. Under each of these provisions, liability may have become attached to land.
The way in which that liability is shared out between affected landowners depends on the way in which it was created. In some cases the liability may be joint and several, so that any one affected landowner can be made liable for the whole of the cost of any repairs. For liabilities created under the Tithe Act 1936 there is a complicated method of apportioning the liability between affected landowners.
The liability to contribute to chancel repair costs is currently what lawyers call an ‘overriding interest’. This means that it passes automatically with the land, so that when the land is sold or passed to a new owner, the new owner assumes the liability with the ownership of the land.
The Land Registration Act 2002 (as amended) ended the ‘overriding’ status of chancel repair liabilities at midnight on 12 October 2013. If land which carries a liability to contribute to chancel repairs is sold after that date, the chancel repair liability will be extinguished unless a notice has been registered on the title of the land at the Land Registry to indicate that the land is subject to chancel repair liability. Land which is currently unregistered will, if registered after 12 October 2013 without a caution against first registration having been entered, also become free of the liability to contribute to chancel repairing costs. Land Registry guidance on this subject is available at Land Registry Practice Guide 66.
Yes. The liability will continue to affect land which was subject to it before 12 October 2013 until that land is transferred to a new owner or, if the land is not currently registered, until an application is made to register the title to the land at the Land Registry. After a transfer or first registration, however, the land will be free of Chancel Repairing Liability (“CRL”) unless the liability has previously been registered against the property at the Land Registry. This means that if you are buying a property, and there is no mention of CRL registered against the property, the property will be released from any potential liability when your title is registered. You do not, therefore, need to waste money on obtaining insurance against the future risk of a claim for a contribution towards the cost of repairing the chancel.
If you own a property now, and the title has not previously been registered, it is a good idea to register the title to the property. This will ensure that it is released from any future CRL claims.
The PCC can still register the CRL against affected properties but if, since 12 October 2013, they have been transferred, or title to the property has been registered for the first time then, it will be too late to register the CRL – it will be extinguished.
There is no central Church of England register of parishes where Chancel Repair Liability may exist, but research undertaken by the Church Commissioners in the early 1980’s suggested that somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 parishes might be affected, or about a third of the total number.
The Diocesan Registry holds a schedule of parishes in the Diocese of Norwich showing which may be affected by chancel repairing liabilities. A copy of this schedule is available from the Registrar (email@example.com) or can be downloaded at Chancel Repairs in the Diocese of Norwich. Please note that the Schedule is based on records at the National Archive dating from the 1930’s. In some cases where it indicates that the Church Commissioners hold a liability to contribute to chancel repairs, that liability has since been extinguished by the Endowments and Glebe Measure 1976. Please apply to the Registrar for advice if in doubt.
The first place to look is in the parish’s own records. There may be papers relating to past claims against persons responsible for making a contribution to chancel repair costs. Those papers will be very useful in identifying any land which may be affected.
If there is nothing in the church’s own papers, a good starting point is to search against one or more particular properties in the parish to see whether there is any historic record of chancel repairing liability in the parish. This can be done using a chancel search company. Names are available from internet search engines such as Google or Yahoo. If the response is negative, that is not conclusive proof that no properties in the parish will be affected by Chancel repairing liability, but it will be a strong indication that the liability does not affect properties in the parish.
If these searches do indicate that chancel repairing liability may be an issue in the parish, then the next step might be to get hold of a copy of a book called ‘Chancel Repair Liability: How to Research It’, by James Derriman, ISBN 978-1898029847. Buy
This is likely to point to a number of potential sources of information apart from those discussed above:
- The County Record Office (www.archives.norfolk.gov.uk or www.suffolk.gov.uk/SRO, as appropriate) may hold records relating to the parish. These may include evidence of historic claims for contributions to chancel repair costs. They may also include copies of Enclosure Acts or Awards affecting the Parish, under which land may have been allotted to the rector in lieu of his entitlement to receive tithes. That rectorial land will have been fixed with the liability to contribute to the cost of chancel repairs, but if it was still in the rector’s hands in 1923, the liability will have transferred to the PCC by virtue of section 52(1) of the Ecclesiastical Dilapidations Measure 1923.
- The County Record Office may also hold Tithe maps and a list of tithe rentcharges apportioned to land in the 19th century or pursuant to the Tithe Act 1936. These lists are known as ‘Records of Ascertainment’. These will show how tithes were apportioned, and properties bearing a tithe rentcharge will now bear a proportion of the overall chancel repairing liability. This will be the proportion which the property’s apportioned tithe rentcharge bears to the aggregate overall tithe rentcharge for the parish as a whole.
- The historic records of the Diocese of Norwich, which includes the parishes in the Lothingland Deanery, are held by the Norfolk Record Office at The Archive Centre, Martineau Lane, Norwich, NR1 2DQ Tel: 01603 222599; Fax: 01603 761885 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Website www.archives.norfolk.gov.uk
- The National Archives at Kew are likely to hold information about the parish, and this may include useful information about tithe rentcharge apportionments or former lay rectors or impropriators of the parish. There is a guide to chancel related matters at on their website (Legal Records Leaflet 33)
- The Church Commissioners maintain a list of parishes for which they acknowledge an obligation to contribute to the cost of Chancel repairs. The Commissioners have a repairing liability for about 800 church chancels and grant-aid the repair of a further 200 where liability falls on the Deans and Chapters of Cathedrals. The Diocesan Registrar (email@example.com) has a list of churches for whose chancels the Church Commissioners accept responsibility to contribute to the cost of repairs.
- Where the parish has links to an Oxford or Cambridge College or to another ancient educational institution such as Eton, it may be worth making enquiries with the relevant college.
- The Land Registry may be a useful source of information on titles to individual properties, which may include reference to or acknowledgment of chancel repairing liabilities. It may be worth checking the title to individual properties with church-related names, such as ‘Church Farm’ or ‘Rectory Farm’, or ‘Glebe Close’.
- The Diocese has undertaken some research to assist parishes, and a summary of this research is set out at Chancel Repairs in the Diocese of Norwich. For the parishes with an ‘x’ in the column headed ‘2a’ in that summary, there is no-one with a current liability to contribute to chancel repair costs, and the PCC should note this in its minutes, for example by recording “Research undertaken on behalf of the Diocese had indicated that liability of third parties to contribute to the cost of repairing the chancel of the N parish church had now been extinguished. The Diocesan Registrar had advised that no further research need be undertaken by the Parish on this subject”
- Where the research indicates a figure in the column headed ‘2b’, that liability continues to be borne by a corporate body, the name of which usually appears in the last column, which is headed ‘Other Notes’. If there is an entry only in column ‘2b’, and only one body is named, that body will bear the whole of the liability for chancel repairs. Where more than one body is named, their proportionate shares of the liability can be calculated from the figures given. Note that it will be worth cross checking this liability with the Diocesan Registry – in one or two cases the liability shown in this column of the schedule has now been extinguished, e.g. by the operation of section 39(b) of the Endowments and Glebe Measure 1976.
- If a figure is indicated in columns ‘2c’ or ‘2d’, then it will be necessary to identify the land to which that liability is attached, either from the tithe map, or the description of the land in the Record of Ascertainments. In these cases, the parish will need to do some further research, and to consider whether to seek to register the liability against that land.
- The Church Commissioners hold responsibility for contributing to Chancel Repair costs for some 35 churches within the Diocese of Norwich. Please address enquiries about liabilities held by the Church Commissioners to the Diocesan Registrar in the first instance.
- In the Diocese of Norwich there are three Archdeaconries. It is worth noting that there are few churches within the Archdeaconry of Norwich which benefit from any chancel repairing liability, and none within the historic City itself. There are churches in the Archdeaconries of Lynn and Norfolk which are affected.
This is not an exhaustive list of possible sources of information. It will be seen that researching potential chancel liability is not straightforward, and each parish will need to identify what resources it may have to undertake this research, and to consider the extent of the research which it is practicable for the parish to undertake.
You should ask your solicitor or conveyancer to advise you on the question of whether the land may be affected by Chancel Repair Liability (“CRL”). Your solicitor can organise a search to check this as a part of the conveyancing process, and also check that no notice of CRL has been registered against the title to the land. If the search suggests that the land may be affected by CRL, you could consider insuring against this liability. Your solicitor or conveyancer can advise you about this and about an appropriate level and type of cover. However, CRL is no longer (since 12 October 2013) an overriding interest for land law purposes, and when you complete the purchase of the land, provided you have given valuable consideration for it (i.e. paid something for it), and as long as the CRL has not actually been registered against the title to the land, the CRL will cease to bind the land. If CRL has been regsitered against the title, you will probably not be able to obtain insurance against the risk of a claim anyway. So insurance against CRL will probably either be a waste of money or simply not possible.
Yes. Chancel Repair liability may attach to a small property as well as to a larger property such as a farm. Even if you are buying a house, you should ask your solicitor or conveyancer to check whether it may be affected by this liability. If you own a house and are concerned about the possibility of chancel repair liability, you can still arrange a search and insurance, or discuss with the Parochial Church Council the possibility of making a modest payment to the church in exchange for having the liability extinguished.
No, it does not matter whether the landowner of affected land is an individual, joint owners or a company or other type of corporation.
From 2013 church repairing grants will be administered by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and they have indicated that they will not take such a strict view as that put forward by English Heritage when considering grant applications. They will still want to look at the resources available to the church, but there will be no automatic refusal of applications just because chancel repairing liability has not been registered.
Yes, if you hold all of the liability you can enter into a formal agreement with the PCC to effect what is called a “composition” of your chancel repairing liability, under Section 52, Ecclesiastical Dilapidations Measure 1923. The amount payable will depend on the amount which you might have had to pay in future, discounted to reflect early payment, but will also include an element of a contribution to the cost of insuring the Chancel. It may be possible to reach an agreement for composition of the liability outside the terms of the 1923 Measure, e.g. if you hold only a part of the liability, although there might be a question about the legal authority of the PCC to enter into such a deal. Nevertheless, from the PCC’s point of view, it would be better to effect a composition of individual shares of any liability rather than doing nothing at all.