Knowledge Hub | Articles

04 March 2013

Could your village church cost you an unexpected fortune?

With its mix of picturesque English countryside combined with easy transport links into the capital, Buckinghamshire and the wider Thames Valley are attractive places to live.

As a result, it’s well known that the region is one of the most expensive in the country to buy a house and, given that Spring is one of the most popular times to move, it makes sense to ensure you are protected against any unexpected bills.

One little-known, but potentially expensive surprise, is that of chancel repair liability, an historic law which can see householders having to dig deep into their pockets to pay for the upkeep of the chancel in the village church.

It dates back to a time when local religious leaders were given land and had the right to collect payments from tenants deemed to live within their parish. The law says community members must pay for the upkeep of the part of the church around the altar and today, some 5,200 churches are still entitled to demand monies from home owners.

How do you find out if your home is liable to chancel repair liability?

Partner Chris Hardy, who is practice group leader for the residential property team at leading Buckinghamshire law firm B P Collins LLP, says searches carried out by conveyancing specialists can show whether or not an area is likely to be affected.

“You don’t have to live next door to the church to be affected and just because not many people have heard of chancel repair liability, doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore it,” said Chris.

“There have been cases where people have been taken by surprise and been forced to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds towards repairs because they haven’t checked whether or not they were liable at the time they purchased the property.

“If you are planning on moving it makes sense to seek advice from a qualified legal property specialist who can investigate on your behalf. Once you know if your property is liable, then you can consider whether you want the security of taking out indemnity insurance to protect against any future bills.”

There had been hopes that from 13 October this year, the issue around chancel repair liability would be clearer. This was the date by which the Land Registry said it would be mandatory for chancel repair liability to be registered on all affected properties, meaning it would be apparent from the Land Registry title without any other searches.

While this scheme is going ahead, it seems that even if a property has not been registered by this date, the church can still claim its chancel repair costs from the homeowners, until such time as they sell the property. At that point, if the liability for chancel repair has not been registered, it will be free from liability for the new owner.

“What this shows is just how complicated it can be to understand whether or not your property will be liable,” concluded Chris. “Using our expertise we can help unravel potential liability and potentially save unexpected bills at the same time.”

B P Collins is a member of the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) – widely recognised as a mark of excellence for the home buying process – and its solicitors have decades of experience in the property field.

The firm’s CQS status demonstrates the top flight level of service it provides to clients, whether they are buying or selling a new home. It is awarded only after a rigorous assessment by the Law Society and has the support of the Council of Mortgage Lenders, the Building Societies Association, Legal Ombudsman and the Association of British Insurers.

If you require legal advice regarding buying or selling your home or your are experiencing a dispute with your property that needs resolving, contact Chris or a member of the property team at B P Collins LLP on 01753 889995 or email

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