Chancel Repair Liability
Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald, Conservative)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mrs Riordan. I congratulate my hon. Friend Peter Luff on securing a debate on the subject of the approaching
deadline for the registration of chancel repair liability. I am replying as the Minister with responsibility for general land law in England and Wales.
The debate has highlighted the issues that people affected by chancel repair have to address in light of the October 2013 deadline. I do not underestimate the seriousness and difficulty of those issues, and the problems that they can cause for communities; I am, however, for reasons that I will explain, not persuaded that any change in the law is necessary. I know this conclusion will be disappointing to my hon. Friend, but I will keep the matter under consideration and will monitor developments carefully.
As we have heard, chancel repair liability is an ancient, but enforceable, part of the land law of England and Wales, whereby property owners can be compelled to pay for the repair of the chancel of a church. The liability is thought to benefit about 5,200 ancient churches, and to burden a large number of properties. Liability as between owners is joint and several. However, the present owners of the properties affected by the liability are not the only people to whom chancel repair liability and the approaching deadline for registration are important. Anyone seeking to buy a property will want to know whether it may be affected by chancel repair liability. Searches will be conducted and insurance may be taken out.
On the other side of the liability, the owners of the benefit of the liability will have issues to address. In England, the benefit is usually owned by the local parochial church council. The members of the council, who are essentially charity trustees in relation to their local church, have potentially difficult decisions to make about registration and, should it be necessary, enforcement of the liability.