A client recently discovered that their property, located in Andover, is subject to chancel repair liability. This is the liability of a landowner to pay the cost of repairs to a church chancel (the area around the altar and choir). In the past, when rectory land was sold this medieval liability passed with it. Without knowing it, an owner may find that they are a ‘lay rector’ with responsibilities invoked by the church council of the parish.
In the vast majority of parishes it is not applicable, and since 12th October 2013, it has not been an overriding interest which means that it will not bind a bona fide purchase of land for value. However, if there is an existing chancel repair liability, it will continue until the first transaction for value, and church councils can still apply for a liability to be noted in the Land Registry title in order to bind successors as an expressly protected interest.
So, if you are acquiring a property, make sure it is a bona fide purchase. Group restructures, a deal at nominal value, a gift or transfer on inheritance will not remove the liability.
If you own a property which is liable, you can take out relatively inexpensive insurance, which should mitigate any effect on the value of the property. If you are taking a lease of a property with a service charge liability, you should check if the liability exists and seek to carve out any potential contribution towards this liability under the lease.
It may be an anachronism, but if you fail to insure against a potential liability, you could find yourself back in the Middle Ages!