What Are Chancel Repair Searches?

By Kristian Derrick

Last Reviewed: 28th June 2024

A chancel repair search is essential if you’re considering buying a property in England or Wales.

It ensures you’re aware of any obligations that may affect the property and can help protect you from legal issues or unexpected costs that can run into hundreds or thousands of pounds.

Here’s everything you need to know about chancel repair searches.

What Is a Chancel Repair Search?

A chancel search, also called a chancel repair liability check, allows you to know whether a property is liable for contributing towards repairing the chancel of a parish church.

The chancel is the space around the altar at the east end of the church.

Chancel repair liability originates from an ancient medieval law that made property owners, instead of monasteries, responsible for church repairs.

Under the law, parishes in England and Wales can demand money from owners of particular properties on former monastery land to fund repairs, with costs reaching thousands or millions of pounds.

For example, in 2009, a couple was found liable for £230,000 worth of repairs to the church.

A chancel repair search is a crucial due diligence step that can help protect you from significant and unexpected costs linked to this ancient liability.

Which Properties Are Liable for Chancel Repair?

Chancel repair liability places an obligation on the owners of specific parcels known as glebe lands. These are parcels within an ecclesiastical parish initially granted to support a parish priest.

Although the liability was forgotten or overlooked over the centuries as the land was sold, bought, and divided, it can resurface during modern conveyancing processes.

Around half a million properties in England and Wales can be liable, even if it’s not mentioned in the title.

It’s relevant to old and new properties since it applies to the land on which the property sits, and homeowners may be liable if a local church is nearby.

Such homeowners are called lay rectors, and whether they know it or not, are responsible for repairs and upkeep of the chancel.

Can Non-Parishioners Be Liable for Chancel Repair?

Even if you’re not a parishioner, you can still be liable as long as you’re the land or property owner.

Liability is joint and several, meaning you can be responsible for the total cost of repairs to the local church as a landowner.

The liability is still enforceable unless it has been expressly abolished by statute or substituted for an annual payment. The church can claim the full payment from one or any number of liable property owners.

Homeowners facing such a claim are also legally entitled to claim contributions from other liable property owners in the parish.

Who Can Enforce Chancel Repair Liability?

Before 1932, the liability was only enforceable through the ecclesiastical courts.

Today, the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts is in civil cases concerning church buildings and cases where clergymen are accused of ecclesiastical crimes.

The Chancel Repairs Act 1932 abolished the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts to enforce the repair of chancels.

The legislation passed the responsibility to the county court and named the authority responsible for enforcing the liability as the parochial church council of the parish church.

Related reading: 

How Did Chancel Repair Liability Change in 2013?

Some people think the chancel repair liability was abolished in 2013, but it wasn’t.

The chancel repair liability only ceased to be an overriding interest, meaning it’s no longer automatically enforceable against property owners and their successors in title.

For the liability to continue to affect a property, it must be registered at the Land Registry and stated on the title as a potential liability to homeowners.

The new status doesn’t abolish the liability because the church can still protect its right to enforce chancel repair liability by registering a notice at the Land Registry against affected properties. Once it is registered, the right is protected forever.

In addition, the right to register a notice still exists after 13 October 2013 against properties with no change in ownership since that date.

Even if a notice has not been registered at the Land Registry, the chancel repair liability still binds the property owner after 13 October 2013 until the property is sold ‘for value’ to a new owner (when the liability falls away).

The term ‘for value’ means that property transfers by way of gift, inheritance, divorce settlement, or at undervalue may not qualify for exemption.

When Should You Order a Chancel Repair Search?

You should order a chancel repair search when you appoint a conveyancing solicitor. The solicitor can commission one of two chancel searches:

  • A Chancel Check Search – This search reveals whether the property is located within a parish that could charge for repairs to the chancel. However, it doesn’t show whether or not the actual subject property is located on land with this responsibility. This type of search can show you whether there is a certain level of risk.
  • A Full Chancel Search – This search is much more expensive but will reveal whether the actual subject property is liable. The solicitor must register this liability with the Land Registry if it is.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

If a potential liability exists on the property, it’s highly recommended that you take out chancel liability insurance from a reputable insurer.

Although the premiums vary, you can expect to pay a one-off premium of around £25 or more depending on the circumstances for a standard residential property.

It will cover you against claims for up to 25 years after you’ve purchased the property.

Some policies last for however long you own the property, while others can last forever, even if the property changes hands.

Generally, the cost of the policy required for the property will depend on the level of cover required, the amount of land involved (from less than 1 acre to 10 acres), and whether the policy is for 25 years, 35 years, or in perpetuity.

Final Thoughts

A chancel repair search is an affordable way to determine whether the property you’re buying in England or Wales is liable for chancel repairs.

It can provide you with peace of mind against unexpected large bills and help you take appropriate action like insurance to protect you from legal and financial issues.

Call us today on 01925 906 210 or contact us to speak to one of our friendly advisors.

Sources and References

  • https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo5/22-23/20/section/1

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