Chancel Repair Liability Q&As 2012
What is chancel repair liability?
Chancel repair liability (CRL) is a long-standing and legally
enforceable liability to repair - or to contribute to the cost of
repair of - the chancel (usually the easternmost part) of a parish
Some chancel repair liability is attached to the ownership of
particular pieces of land. That is because the land in
question originally formed part of a rectory (an endowment
including land to support the priest who serves a parish) or
because it otherwise represents property that originally formed
part of a rectory. During the middle ages monasteries
acquired a large number of rectories. Following the
dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, a large amount of
property that had belonged to rectories came into lay
ownership. The relevant Acts of Parliament made it clear that
the new, lay, owners of the land held the land on the same terms as
the former monastic owners. That included the obligation to
repair the chancel of the parish church.
When a person acquires land to which CRL is attached, that
person becomes liable to repair - or to contribute to the cost of
repair of - the chancel of the parish church. CRL was
formerly enforceable only in the church courts but in 1932
Parliament passed legislation - the Chancel Repairs Act 1932 -
which provided that in future CRL was to be enforceable in the
county court instead. The Chancel Repairs Act 1932 provides
that the responsible authority for enforcing CRL is the parochial
church council of the parish concerned.
Is it not unfair that home buyers can find themselves
subject to chancel repair liability even if they were not aware of
it when they purchased their property?
While in theory this might have been a problem, we are not aware
of any recent case where someone has bought property without
knowing it was subject to chancel repair liability and has
subsequently faced a demand for payment.
In any event, the issue has now been addressed by government
legislation. In future CRL will need to be registered against
the title of the affected land if it is to bind a purchaser of the
land. With effect from 14th October 2013 purchasers, by
inspecting the registered title of a property, will be able to
discover definitively whether it is affected by chancel repair
Are PCCs obliged to register and enforce the repairing
A PCC is a charity so its members are subject to the usual duty
of charity trustees to exercise their powers in its best
interests. They cannot therefore simply choose not to
register or enforce chancel repair liability. However, as
Lord Scott noted in the Aston Cantlow case [paragraph 137], there
may be circumstances in which a PCC can properly decide not to do
so. A PCC could, for instance, in an appropriate case take
into account the possibility of excessive hardship that might be
caused to those liable if the obligation were enforced, or the
damage that enforcing it could do to the mission of the Church in
the parish. But the decision is one for the individual
Advice from the General Synod's Legal Advisory Commission is
Advice from the Charity Commission is available here: [Link not
available as this goes to press]
Is the Church nationally co-ordinating the registering
of chancel repair liability?
No. It is a matter for individual PCCs, with the benefit
of advice from their diocesan registrar.
Is the Church nationally co-ordinating the chasing of
chancel repair payments?
No. It is again a matter for individual PCCs.
Are grant-making bodies such as English Heritage
insisting that parishes pursue chancel repair liability before they
will make grants to those parishes?
The policy of English Heritage has been that it will not provide
grant aid to a PCC in respect of repairs to the chancel of a church
where there is a lay rector who is responsible for its
repair. However, responsibility for grants for places of
worship is to be taken over by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) with
effect from 1st April 2013. HLF have said the following:
"One of these key alterations to the grants repair scheme to be
introduced from 01/04/2013 will be the way in which we assess
financial need. Whilst we will still look at the value for money
applications offer, we will no longer follow the highly detailed
financial needs assessment model as currently used. Neither will we
continue with the blanket policy that considers chancel repairs
where there is a lay rector to be outside the scope of grant aid.
Instead, we will take account of the financial needs of the
applicant with regard to future development plans for the long-term
sustainable use of the building. We will also be realistic about
their ability to fund raise, and therefore we will not encourage
the PCC to pursue Chancel Repair Liability on occasions where it is
evidently unreasonable for them to do so."
Will the Aston Cantlow case lead to a flood of similar
No. The principles involved were established in 2003 when
the House of Lords gave judgment. We are not aware of any
increase in the number of chancel repair claims since then.
Is it right that the Church of England continues to
benefit from this historic liability?
The Church of England has financial responsibility for 45% of
the nation's Grade 1 listed buildings and many other
architecturally important churches. 70% of repair bills are
met by local fundraising, with only a minority coming from English
Heritage, lottery funds and other non-church sources. This
places a considerable financial burden on PCCs, which largely rely
on voluntary giving to support their work. Against that
background, the Church cannot be expected to forego sources of
funding to which it is entitled unless it receives adequate