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Divine Intervention for Chancel Repair Liability?

Any conveyancing newcomer may question the inclusion of a ‘Chancel Repair Search’ when purchasing a property, but to dismiss this relatively low-cost search has wreaked havoc for some homeowners.

The search had been previously dismissed as outdated and irrelevant when it suddenly seared itself back into the minds of conveyancing solicitors nationwide in 2009, when a couple from Warwickshire were landed with a £250,000.00 bill to pay. Adrian and Gail Wallbank had forfeited a chancel repair search after inheriting property and were left reeling after the House of Lords found in their Church Council’s favour; effectively bankrupting them.

What are Chancel Repairs?

Chancel repairs are made to Anglican churches in specific parishes and the searches themselves seek to verify whether prospective properties are still subject to these archaic laws, which were designed to ensure lay rectors maintained their local parish churches in the Middle Ages. Nowadays in an increasingly multicultural and secular society you wouldn’t expect your local church to invoke such a law, but like Adrian and Gail Wallbank, you could be mistaken.

Chancel repair liability affects not only the obligations you may owe to the parish but it also affects the value of your property should you come to sell. Accordingly, a chancel repair search is strongly recommended by conveyancing solicitors but this may all be about to change.

Miracles are needed in the House of Lords:

In line with the Law Society’s and Law Commission’s view, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury brought the Chancel Repair Bill before the House of Lords just last week. A stable property market is threatened by chancel repairs, which at the very least deter potential purchasers, and with over 12,000 properties subjected to this ecclesiastical form of liability it should be swiftly ushered into statute… shouldn’t it?

12,000 as a number may appear large but in the grand scheme of national issues it is imperative that the Bill receives sufficient ‘air time’ both in the House of Lords and Commons if it is to be successful. The timing of the summer recess should work in the Bill’s favour with political commentators noting the ease at which politically ‘lighter’ bills such as this one pass through readings and amendments as Parliament begins to wind down. On an interesting note, if successful, the Chancel Repair Bill may generate its very own equivalent to the PPI scandal should significant numbers of people come forward and demonstrate that they had to insure against an illusory risk. As always, we will endeavour to keep you posted.