Question: I am buying a house with a mortgage, and everything has been going smoothly — until now. My solicitor tells me that the house I am buying is in a parish where there may be a liability to “contribute to any repairs of the chancel of the local church”. He asked the seller to pay for insurance against any future demands for money because of this, but the seller has refused. The solicitor says my lender will demand that I get this insurance and that it will cost at least £100. I am not very happy. What has this church got to do with me, and why should I pay anything?
Answer: The law that covers chancel repair liability emanates from the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century and imposed personal liability for the upkeep of the chancels of parish churches. The church where you are buying must have been in existence at that time.
In many cases, however, the liability was commuted to tithes, which have since been redeemed or abolished, and many such parishes are no longer affected. In a recent case the courts confirmed that this law is still in force.
It is possible to carry out a search of the relevant records at the Record Office at Kew, but this can take months. The insurance you mention should cover you (and future owners) should the Parochial Church Council request any contributions.
If your solicitor is acting for your lender, as well as for you, he is required by them to carry out all usual and prudent searches and to ensure that insurance is in place to cover potential risks. It is generally accepted that this is such a risk. You should ask your solicitor to confirm exactly what the proposed policy will cover, and if a cheaper premium is available.
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If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret that questions cannot be answered individually.
Fiona is a partner in the property team at Thring Townsend Lee & Pembertons Solicitors www.ttuk.com.