Chancel repair liability insurance

Chancel repair liability can cost you a fortune if you're buying, inheriting or moving into an affected property, but there’s insurance to protect you from local church bills.

Alice Morgan

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What’s chancel repair liability?

Chancel repair liability makes homeowners legally responsible for repairs to their local church.

It only applies to churches within the Church of England or Church of Wales and is part of a medieval law brought about by Henry VIII.

If you own a house or building on land that belonged to monastries centuries ago, you could be liable to pay for repairs to the chancel - that's the area around the church altar - as well as its walls, windows and interior.

It's something that most homeowners know nothing about, yet it's not covered by your home insurance and can be devestatingly expensive.

Fortunately, you can get a specialist policy to protect you from a huge bill.

Key points

  • Chancel repair liability makes homeowners legally responsible for repairs to local churches
  • Taking out insurance can protect you from unexpected bills
  • Your solicitor should be able to tell you whether you need to pay or not

Is my house affected?

The Parochial Church Council can choose which properties need to pay and the bill could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. 

The church can apply the bill to a small handful of houses, rather than the whole parish.

If you’re thinking about buying a property within the boundaries of a parish church council, talk to your solicitor about whether you’ll be liable to pay chancel repair costs. It's something that should come up in the searches that are done during the house-buying process.

What’s chancel repair liability insurance?

Chancel repair liability insurance will protect you from the cost you’d have to pay to the Church, including legal expenses.

It covers any repairs you’ll have to pay for, so you’re not caught out by a large and unexpected bill.

“Chancel repair liability insurance will protect you from the cost you’d have to pay to the Church, including legal expenses”

Buying a house with chancel repair liability

Chancel repair liability is sometimes stated on the title deeds to your house, but not always.

Your solicitor can run a ChancelCheck Search to see if you’re liable.

However, the ChancelCheck Search will only tell you if there’s a possibility of liability.

If that is the case, you'll be advised to take out an indemnity insurance policy to protect you form the potential cost.

However, due to the risk involved being actually quite small, indemnity policies for chancel repair are inexpensive and less than the cost of the search itself - so it might be a cheaper option just to take it out if you're in an affected area.

You can use The National Archives to find the chancel repair liability of your parish for free.

Or, you can use the paid search service to find out about liability in your specific parish.

Just be warned that neither are legally binding so the onus is still on you to find out for sure the status of your home.

Always consult your solicitor, who will advise whether an indemnity policy is worthwhile.

Did the church register your property as liable?

The Church had to register which properties would pay chancel repair costs with the Land Registry before 13 October 2013.

  • The only way a property stops being available to register is when it’s sold on - if you bought it after 13 October 2013, it’s unlikely that you’d be liable
  • If you still live in a house that you bought before 13 October 2013, the property could still be registered as liable for chancel repair. If you haven’t done the searches yet, it’s time to investigate and put appropriate protection in place
  • You can be liable to pay if the freehold still belongs to whoever owned the property before 13 October 2013

New builds

If you live in or are buying a new build property that was built after 13 October 2013, you probably won’t be liable.

But never assume - the church can still register an interest in the property before it's registered with the Land Registry, even if it’s built after 13 October 2013.

It may not show up on the title deeds, so check with your solicitor.

The developer may advise that’s it’s aware of the parish, but not whether the property is affected.

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Chancel repair liability and businesses

Businesses are less likely to be affected by chancel repair liability.

Paul Hajek, principal at Clutton Cox conveyancing says, “Many businesses rent or lease properties and it's not the leaseholder who would be liable but the owner of the property.”

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