Chancel Repair Liability
A brief guide to this subject as it affects parishes in the Diocese of St Albans
This guide does not attempt to give detailed information about what is a complex legal subject and should only be used as a general introduction. The information contained in the guide states the position to the best of the author’s knowledge, but the Diocese of St Albans takes no responsibility for its accuracy.
In mediaeval times the Rector of a parish was due tithes from his parishioners, either in the form of land owned by the Rector or in rent or produce from parishioners. In return the Rector was responsible for maintaining the chancel of the parish church, while the parishioners were responsible for maintaining the nave and the rest of the church. The monasteries and other religious foundations were the Rectors of many parishes, claiming the tithes and sending a Vicar to live and minister in the parish. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII, the tithe rights of the monasteries were often granted to individual landowners or to Oxbridge colleges and these “Lay Rectors” also became liable for maintaining the chancel of the parish church.
By the early 20th century tithes had come to be regarded as archaic and in need of reform or abolition. Notwithstanding this, the chancel repair liability of Lay Rectors remained in force. As a result of the concern about tithes, certain legislation was put in place to transfer the Chancel Repair Liability of clergy who were Rectors to Parochial Church Councils (PCCs). Consequently parishes which were ancient Rectories do not normally benefit from any continuing chancel repair liability. Other legislation at this time also allowed for certain categories of Lay Rector to pay an agreed sum in full and final settlement of their liability into a chancel repair endowment fund. Some categories of liability were excluded from the legislation and continued to operate. As a result of this there have been a number of cases over the years where Lay Rectors have voluntarily made an agreed payment to end their liability.
The present position
1. Victorian and more modern parish churches do not normally benefit from chancel repair liability. However, land and houses currently in these more modern parishes may lie within the ancient boundaries of a parish where a continuing liability exists, and individual properties may be subject to such a liability. Companies such as ChancelCheck will establish the ancient parish within which a particular property lies.
2. Generally, ancient parishes which were Rectories (i.e. where the Rector was the member of the clergy serving the parish) no longer benefit from any chancel repair liability, because the liability formerly exercised by the Rector was transferred to the PCC under earlier legislation.
3. In many cases where the parish was an ancient Vicarage and a liability to repair the chancel existed, all liability was ended either by the provisions of legislation such as the Tithe Act 1936, or by the action of the Lay Rector in making a voluntary agreement to end their liability. Information about such cases can sometimes be provided by reference to the Diocesan Office.
4. In many cases where a liability continues, it is a proportion of the whole original liability that remains, the other part having been transferred to the PCC.
5. Where a liability continues, the person or body responsible as Lay Rector is bound not only to repair the chancel but also to restore and rebuild if necessary. Where the Lay Rectors are aware of their liability, they can insure the chancel against certain insurable risks such as fire etc. (specialist insurers of church buildings such as Ecclesiastical can advise on such cover). In cases where the liability is shared, and the landowners are aware of this share of responsibility they can contribute jointly towards an insurance policy and towards the costs of repairs. This shared liability is a joint and several liability meaning that the PCC may ask for a contribution from any one landowner (usually the one with the largest proportion of the liability), leaving that one individual to claim part of the costs back from the others who share the liability with him or her.
6. In some cases an individual landowner or an ancient institution such as an Oxbridge college or the Church Commissioners has a clear continuing liability. Any enquiry about the position concerning an individual property in one of these parishes should be referred to the Diocesan Office as in some cases part of the liability attaches to land not in the ownership of the major Lay Rector.
7. There remain a number of parishes in the Diocese of St Albans where a liability (or a proportion of the liability) to repair the chancel of the parish church remains in existence and is attached to certain defined parcels of land within the ancient boundaries of the parish. There are also some parishes about which we hold no relevant information and where a liability may or may not continue to exist.
8. In some cases the PCC has taken an informed decision not to register some or all of the remaining liabilities and has obtained advice from the Charity Commission under S110 of the Charities Act that it has acted properly in reaching its decision.
The information set out above is published for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as conclusive statements of the existence or absence of chancel repair liability in a particular parish. Individual landowners should always make their own enquiries to the Diocesan Office and through appropriate search providers via their Solicitors if they have any particular concerns.
The St Albans Diocesan Board of Finance disclaims any and all liability which may accrue through reliance upon this information in any form as definitive or conclusive proof of the presence or absence of chancel repair liability in any given parish. As stated above, parishes and individual landowners should always take legal advice on this complex but important matter.