Chancel Repair Liability Search

This is the liability of a property owner to contribute to the cost of repair of the chancel (or steeple) of a church. It dates back to medieval times when the local parish church owned large tracts of land. It would sell off land within its parish on the condition that the purchaser contributed some or all of the cost of chancel repairs in future.

These chancel repair liabilities were not always formally recorded by way of a deed since they pre-date the development of the conveyancing system we know today and they were largely forgotten about for many years, until the introduction of the Land Registration Act 2002. Under the act all chancel repair obligations have to be registered at land registry by 2012, otherwise they cease to be enforceable. This has led to the church scouring its archives to find instances where obligations exist and having them registered.

Why order a Chancel Liability Search?

This question has been the source of some debate in recent times. Firstly, there are two levels of chancel liability search. The basic search will cost around £15 and will state whether the property is within a parish where a potential chancel repair liability exists. This does not necessarily mean that the property itself is affected. The companies which provide these searches generally also sell insurance against the risk which has led some to argue that the search results are of little value since the risk is exaggerated in order to sell more insurance. The more in depth chancel liability search will cost about £100 and though more specific to the property, it is still not definitive. If a liability is identified via this search then indemnity insurance cannot be obtained.

Having said this, there have been some large claims against home owners recently as the church has sought to register its interests prior to the 2012 deadline.

Before ordering the chancel liability search it is worth considering the location of the property and the nature of the estate. The first thing to consider is whether there is actually a medieval church in the vicinity. If the nearest is several miles away then it probably will not have an effect. Secondly, how densely populated is the area? If there are several thousand houses within a 2 mile radius of the church then remember that the liability will probably be split between all of them. A £10,000 repair bill seems daunting until it is divided by 1000 properties.

Ordering the Chancel Liability Search

There are various companies which will supply chancel searches. We have partnered with a reputable search company to make ordering a chancel liability search easier, click link to order.

What if the Property is Liable/in a Risk Parish?

If the basic search is carried out and the property is revealed to be in a parish with a potential risk then there are two options. The first is to carry out a full search. This will cost around £100 - £150 and may establish that the property does not carry a chancel repair liability. It should be noted however that even the full search is not necessarily definitive. A better option may be to purchase indemnity insurance. Such insurance is scaled on the value and size of the property and starts from around £40 (this is a one-off premium). It can usually be purchased from the search provider and will pay any claim made by the church.

If a full search is carried out and does reveal a liability then insurance will not be available. Enquiries ought to be made of the beneficiary church as to the likelihood of a claim being made in the foreseeable future and also whether the church has any records of how many other properties will share the liability. The full situation should then be reported to the purchaser and lender.