Chancel Repair Liability
Basic information. There are downloadable resources to the left of the page, including draft advice to parishes.
What is it?
In some parishes where the church or its predecessor on the site goes back to the pre-reformation period, there may be some land to which is attached a liability to pay or contribute to the payment of the cost of keeping the chancel of the church wind- and weather-tight. The owner of that land will be the person who can be required to pay or contribute.
Why does it matter?
To have a source of funds for repairs is an asset of the church, and the PCC as trustees must do their reasonable best to preserve assets like that. That means that if it is reasonably possible a PCC must find out if there is land with that liability attached to it, and then protect if by registering the liability at the Land Registry. If they ignore it, they could be liable if in due course it comes to light and they have failed to protect it, so that the asset is lost.
What should we do?
First, ask around all the people who have ever been involved in the repair of your church – see if anyone recalls claiming a contribution from someone to help the PCC repair the chancel of your building, and if so look at the minutes of the PCC at the time. Make more general enquiries and see if anyone has ever been asked to pay up. If they have land, or had land at the time, ask them if that land had liability attached to it, and if not why did they pay. Follow up any rumours and vague recollections to see if they are right.
If this gets you nowhere, ask if there is anyone in the parish who would be willing to do some research. It requires someone of reasonable facility with reading old records, and they may have to be willing to spend time in local or national records offices. Work out if the PCC can afford to pay a little for the work, and at least bear the travelling expenses. If you can find someone to do it, get them to make some telephone enquiries to find out where they can most economically inspect the Records of Ascertainment for the parish. Buy them the book “How to research Chancel Repair Liability” and then set them on course to find the records, and to visit the Tithe Map of the parish with their information. Probably the local record office will have a copy of the tithe map. Find some people to be ready to help when that information is in.
Once the Ascertainments have been found and compared with the tithe maps, find out where the land identified appears on modern maps so that you know where the land is physically and can mark it on the modern maps.
The need is to find out who owns the land. Some of it will be discoverable locally by asking long-standing residents. Any that is left can be the subject of searches at the Land Registry, where most of the land will be identifiable. Any solicitor should be able to make the necessary search if asked, and it will usually be at a fairly small fee. Each parcel of land has its own register, however, so there could be several independent fees to pay if there are lots of individual plots and therefore different landowners involved.
The protection that you will then need is likely to be the registration of the liability on the record at the Land Registry, and for that you will probably need a lawyer. A general guide can be obtained from the Diocesan Registry but any solicitor has the facilities to register it for you.
There is another course that might be worth considering at this point, and that is to ask if the owners of the land might wish to buy out the liability. It could be a more attractive proposition and would eventually bring in quite a reasonable amount of money if the people with the liability chose to buy out. Where a piece of land was once a field but is now a site of a housing development has many owners, the amount for one house may be small, but with lots of people paying could be significant. There is a statutory formula if there is no other basis.
If no agreement can be reached then the liability ought to be registered. However, this is an unpopular liability, and some good publicity ought to be put out to explain how the duty to register it arises.
The relevant page on the National Archives website is: