PCCs have a legal responsibility under the Land Registration Act 2002 relating to Chancel Repair Liability.
What is Chancel Repair Liability?
Some parishes have a lay rector who has a legal obligation to meet the cost of repairs to the church chancel. Chancel repair liability has existed since long before the Reformation. It arose as a result of ownership of glebe land by the rector of a parish of his entitlement to tithes. In many cases the ownership of land which formerly belonged to a rectory still carries with it the burden of repairing the chancel. But often the knowledge of a current landowner’s legal liability to contribute towards the repair of the chancel of the parish church associated with the land has been forgotten.
What must the PCC do?
As a result of a House of Lords decision in 2003 (re. Aston Cantlow PCC v Wallbank), and recent developments in the law relating to land registration, it is very important that PCCs take steps now to check whether or not there is a liability for chancel repairs attaching to any land now or previously associated with their parish church. All such liability must be registered with the Land Registry by 13 October 2013. The result of not registering will be that the right to recover the cost of chancel repairs from a lay rector will be lost forever. It is the duty of the PCC as charity trustees to ensure that this valuable right is not lost. There have been cases where insurance has been refused for chancel repairs or grant support restricted on the basics that the PCC must look to the lay rector to pay; and if the PCC has lost its right to do so, funding will be lost.
The Church Commissioners have produced an Opinion concerning the registration and enforcement of chancel repair liability by PCCs, and also a helpful list of questions and answers which explain the background and significance of chancel repair liability for parish churches.
Researching chancel repair liability
Unfortunately, researching chancel repair liability is not a straightforward matter. The diocese has only a partial register of lay rectors responsible for chancel repairs. All PCCs who do not know whether they have a lay rector with chancel repair liability for their church are asked to begin the process of checking whether they can register chancel repair liability, either by finding a willing and able local volunteer to carry out the necessary research or by employing a professional researcher.
Help is available!
The good news is that the National Archives Office now offers to undertake a chancel repair search on behalf of any parish for a standard fee of £180. Please see http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/chancel-repair-liabilities-england-wales/; alternatively ring the National Archives Office on 020 8876 3444.
Once any chancel repair liability has been established, the Diocesan Registry can assist in registering that liability against the land burdened with it.