Changes to church repair liability

Is it true that chancel repair liability ceased to apply from October 2013 and we can all finally now forget about it when buying houses or commercial properties?

Unfortunately not!

Chancel repair is the ancient liability attaching to former rectorial land to contribute towards the repair and maintenance of parts of the local church. Until recently, it was one of the categories of 'overriding interests', which would bind successive owners of the land even though not known about and not mentioned on the Land Registry title.

On 13 October 2013, several classes of overriding interest lost their overriding status, including chancel repair liability. These interests have not 'disappeared' or ceased to be enforceable, they simply no longer bind future purchasers who do not have notice of them.

Chancel repair liability can still be enforced against landowners who acquired before 13 October 2013, as well as against those who acquire land after that date but without valuable consideration – maybe by way of gift or inheritance. And if the Church has protected its interest on the Land Registry title, the liability will continue to bind all future owners.

Going forward, where the liability is not apparent from the title, a purchaser for value takes free of it and the Church's rights in respect of that property are effectively lost at that point.

This is good news for those who acquire land from 13 October, but until the first disposition for value after that date is completed – and registered at the Land Registry – it still remains possible for the Church to register chancel repair liability. It may therefore be some years before we can ignore it completely!

Whilst chancel repair liability is perhaps the most extreme of the overriding interests in terms of the potential liability it can impose on a landowner, it is worth highlighting another of the interests which has also recently lost its overriding status.

Rights originally enjoyed by the lord of the manor over mines and minerals beneath land are widespread and are encountered much more commonly in practice than chancel repair liability. Many current beneficiaries of rights to mines and minerals have been registering them in advance of 13 October, and will continue doing so while they can. The Church alone has registered such rights against half a million acres in the last five years.

As with chancel repair liability, a purchaser for value will now take free of such rights to mines and minerals unless they have been noted on the title.

  • Bill Chandler is legal director of Hill Dickinson.

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