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 available to protect you from local church bills.

Eve Powell
Eve Powell
Updated 6 March 2023  | 4 mins read
Reviewed by Jasmine Hembury

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What’s chancel repair insurance?

Chancel repair liability is a law that requires some landowners to pay for repairs to their local church.

It applies to landowners in England and Wales whose land was formerly owned by or had liability to the church.

Chancel repair 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.

Key points

  • Chancel repair liability makes homeowners legally responsible for repairs to local churches
  • Taking out insurance can protect you from unexpected bills
  • The church’s right to apply for a home to be liable is only lost once it’s sold to a new owner 
  • Your solicitor should be able to tell you whether you’ll be liable or not

Is my property liable for chancel repair?

This will depend on whether your home or property is within the boundaries of a medieval parish church. And the responsibility for repairs can extend to homes quite far from the church in question.

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

However, the cost isn’t always split across the whole parish. Instead, the church can apply the bill to just a small handful of houses and unlucky homeowners.

If your home is liable, the responsibility for repairs lasts indefinitely - so it’s passed on when the property is sold.

It applies even if the original home is knocked down and rebuilt - as it’s the land the property sits on that holds the liability.

How can I check if my home is liable?

As it’s quite unusual for churches to ask for chancel repair payments, it’s possible that some home sellers might be unaware their property has a chancel liability.

This means it’s up to you to check whether your home - or the one you plan to buy - is affected.

To find out whether your home is liable you can:

  • Check your property’s title deeds - Chancel repair liability is sometimes stated on the title deeds to your house but not always
  • Get your solicitor to run a check - As part of the conveyancing searches done during the house-buying process, your solicitor can run a chancel check search. But this will only tell you if there’s a possibility of liability
  • Check The National Archives - You can check The National Archives for free to find out the potential chancel repair liability of your parish
  • Use a paid search - Because this research isn’t straightforward, there’s also the option of using The National Archives paid search service to do it on your behalf

How do I take out chancel repair insurance?

If your solicitor discovers that your home is potentially liable for chancel repairs, they’ll advise you to take out insurance.

Similarly, you should get cover if you find out you’re liable through your own research.

You can buy chancel repair insurance, also known as chancel indemnity insurance, through a specialist provider.

There are two main types of policy to choose from:

  • No search chancel liability insurance - if there haven’t been any searches on your home, this insures against the possibility of your home being liable
  • Known liability chancel repair insurance - if there’s a known liability, this provides protection against the church claiming money from you for repairs

Is chancel repair insurance a one-off payment?

Yes – you’ll be asked for a single policy payment that you make just before completing on your property purchase.

The insurance typically covers you for £1 million which should be enough for most claims and the cover usually lasts for 25 years, although some will last longer.

Who pays for chancel indemnity insurance?

As the buyer of the property, it’s your responsibility to get chancel liability insurance before you complete the property purchase.

But as it’s unlikely to cost you much, it’s certainly worth taking out cover - if you’re asked to fund future church repairs, you could find yourself paying out thousands of pounds or more.

There’s also the possibility that the church could register a notice of liability on your new home before the sale goes through. Having cover in place before you complete helps to protect you against this.

Is chancel repair insurance transferable?

Yes, most indemnity policies are tied to the property not the person. So it should be possible to transfer the policy to the new owner.

However, if you want to increase the amount of cover you may need to pay an additional premium.

How does a property become liable?

For a property to be 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 for the church to register is when it’s sold on - if you bought it after 13 October 2013, it’s unlikely you’d be liable
  • However, if you were gifted or inherited the house after 2013, you could still be asked to pay for church repairs so it’s a good idea to take out cover if you might be at risk
  • If you own a house that you bought before 13 October 2013, the property could still be registered as liable for chancel repair. So if you haven’t done the searches yet, it’s time to investigate and put appropriate protection in place
  • The property can still be registered to pay if the freehold belongs to whoever owned the property before 13 October 2013

If you're faced with a payment for chancel repairs, you might want to get legal advice to ensure the church has satisfactory evidence of your property’s liability.

Can chancel repair liability be removed?

If the church has entered a notice on the chancel repair register for your property, this can’t be removed unless it can be proved that your home isn’t eligible.

For example - this could be the case if you bought the property after October 2013 and it wasn’t registered by the church beforehand.

When properties are added to the register, the Land Registry should inform the homeowner about it. So it’s important to keep your contact details with the Land Registry up to date.

The Land Registry won’t usually check to see whether a chancel repair notice is valid. So, as the property owner, it’s your responsibility to formally object.

If you can prove your property isn’t liable, you can ask the Land Registry to remove it from the register. This should help to avoid any problems or delays when you come to sell it.

Is chancel repair a one off payment - or can the church ask for repeat payments?

If you’re liable and the church needs more than one repair - you could be asked to pay towards each of these, even if previous owners hadn’t ever received any demands.

This is why it’s important to take out cover if you could be at risk. The price of a policy is likely to be a fraction of what you might need to pay out for costly church repair bills.

How long does chancel repair liability insurance cover me for?

The cover typically lasts for 25 years and will cover you for any chancel repair claims made during this timeframe. You’ll need to renew your policy once the term ends.

However, some policies will last for as long as you own the property or may cover your home forever, even if it changes hands.

Can businesses be affected by chancel repair liability?

Although businesses could be affected, they’re less likely to face chancel repair responsibilities because most companies rent or lease their properties.

It’s only the property owner, rather than the leaseholder, who’d be liable for chancel repairs.

Has chancel repair liability been abolished?

No, although a law change in 2013 has helped to make it easier for property owners to find out if their home is affected - the responsibility to pay towards church repairs still applies to eligible properties.

This responsibility has only ceased for homes bought after 13th October 2013, where the church hadn’t previously registered chancel liability against the property.

However, even if the church hasn’t yet registered your home, it doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to apply - they can still do this until the property is sold to a new owner.

So if there’s still potential for your home to be liable, it’s a good idea to take out cover.