Old property law could affect thousands

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Thousands of households could be stung with substantial bills to repair their local church, after parishes were ordered to enforce an archaic land law.

Despite the obligation being passed after Henry VIII decided to dissolve the monasteries in the sixteenth century, the law requires homeowners adjacent to historic churches to contribute to repairs. According to the Telegraph, people living in more than 5,000 English parishes could be subjected to the outdated ‘Chancel Repair Liabilities’, even if they are non-regular churchgoers.

Many homeowners are already covered against the liability through existing insurance policies, but others who are living on the former monastic land are oblivious about the ruling as authorities have largely swept it under the carpet. The issue came to a head in the Gloucestershire parish of St Eadburgha, where 30 villagers were contacted by the Land Registry warning them of their legal requirements and giving a two-week window to lodge legal objections. The parish’s local vicar, Reverend Michelle Massey, described the letter as “vicious” and the law as “unchristian” and vowed to fight to get legal exemption for her parishioners through the Charity Commission.

Gemma Coles, Solicitor at IBB Solicitors commented:

“Generally the power to enforce demand for payment rests with the parochial church council, and it might be that it will be for the parochial church council to seek registration.

“It is estimated that up to one third of parish churches may be entitled to recover chancel repairs, certainly in 1983 the Law Commission noted that there were 5,200 chancels for which a repair liability existed of which only 1,200 were the liability of the church commissioners, cathedrals and educational foundations.

“Whilst it may not always be in the interest of the church to pass on liability for chancel of repairs to its parishioners the right to do so may be preserved and protected. At present there is little guidance on how the Land Registry will deal with registration of the right however with the 13th October 2013 fast approaching.”

IBB has one of the largest real estate groups in West London and the South East, with expertise in commercial development, residential development, real estate finance, real estate investment and management, construction and real estate dispute resolution. Contact a member of the team by visiting the relevant service page, call us on 08456 381381 or email enquiries@ibblaw.co.uk.