The chancel repair liability search is one of the recommended searches when you buy a new property. What does it mean? Basically, the chancel repair liability gives the parish in the area of your newly bought property the right to charge you, the landowner, for the conservation of the church chancel. As a landowner, you are required to pay for the repairs of the chancel of an Anglican parish church. If the property you acquire was part of the rectorial land, the Parochial Church Council (PCC) has the right to ask you for chancel repair liability.
Around 5 200 pre-Reformation churches in England and Wales are under the Land Registration Act 1925, classifying it as an “overriding interest in registered land” (until October 2013). Before buying a property, it is important for you or your solicitor to request a chancel-repair-liability search, so you know if there are any unpaid debts or to get an idea of how big are the costs for the property, including a chancel liability. The Records of Ascertainments can give you details on your property status, regarding any shares for church repairs you might have to pay.
A said parish land could have been divided into multiple parcels, and if your property is on one of them, you could end up paying the entire amount, due to the fact that the PCC is not obligated to divide the cost of the chancel-repair-liability between the parcels of the original rectorial land. It is part of the conveyancing process to do the chancel-repair-liability search and adjust your budget as requested, by taking into consideration that the maintenance debts towards the PCC could be higher than any other house search.
An interesting aspect is the fact that the property does not necessarily have to be in the immediate area of a medieval church for it to be liable for any church repairs charges. A search through the National Archives can give you more information, but it does not guarantee that if the property was not found in their records, it means that is chancel liability free.
Before October 2013, as a landlord, you were obligated to pay, even if you were not aware of the fact that your property is under an unregistered chancel liability. After October 2013, the PCC only enforce the liability if the property is protected by registration of a notice against the registered title. On the other hand, if the land is not registered with the Land Registry, the liability could be registered by way of caution against first registration.
We strongly advise you to have the chancel repair liability search conducted before investing a large amount of money in a purchase that might end up costing you more than you can afford.