Homeowners face huge bills for repair to churches under ancient laws – regardless of their religion

Letters sent to 12,000 homeowners informing them they are liable for upkeep
Could see them helping with average bill of £80,000 if urgent work required
Experts have warned that the legal responsibility could slash home values

By JAMES TOZER – DAILY MAIL
PUBLISHED: 01:07, 30 December 2013
Thousands of homeowners face the threat of crippling bills to repair local churches under an ancient law which applies regardless of their religion, it has emerged.
Letters have been sent to more than 12,000 people informing them that they are liable to contribute towards the upkeep of a nearby Anglican church under rules which date back to the reign of Henry VIII but are rarely enforced today.
The bombshell warning – which could see them helping to foot an average bill of £80,000 if urgent work is required – is the result of Government attempts to tidy up the law on what is known as ‘chancel repair liabilities’.
Thousands of homeowners face the threat of crippling bills to repair local churches under an ancient law which applies regardless of their religion, it has emerged

Even if repairs are not needed, experts have warned that the legal responsibility could slash home values and potentially cause house sales to fall through.
Currently, many property owners are unaware that they are responsible for contributing towards the upkeep of the chancel – the area around the altar – of their parish church because they are classed as ‘lay rectors’.
While home owners who are aware their property is liable can take out special insurance to cover an unexpected bill, most are oblivious as it is not mentioned in their deeds.
The rule – which dates back to the dissolution of the monasteries almost 500 years ago – was highlighted by the case of Andrew and Gail Wallbank who inherited a farm in Warwickshire.

 

They were ordered to pay over £100,000 towards repairs to Aston Cantlow church, and following a lengthy legal battle which ended in 2008 were left with no choice but to sell the property.
After parochial church councils (PCCs) were told their members risked being made legally responsible if they didn’t identify who was liable, churches were given ten years to inform everyone who could potentially be ordered to cough up.
Now, following a Freedom of Information application, it has emerged that 247 churches have so far registered 12,276 homes or plots of land as being liable.
Letters informing the owners have been sent out by the Land Registry, which manages the list, the Sunday Times reported yesterday.
However as many as 5,000 parish churches have yet to register their rights, meaning the final total could be significantly higher.
Letters have been sent to more than 12,000 people informing them that they are liable to contribute towards the upkeep of a nearby Anglican church under rules which date back to the reign of Henry VIII but are rarely enforced today
Letters have been sent to more than 12,000 people informing them that they are liable to contribute towards the upkeep of a nearby Anglican church under rules which date back to the reign of Henry VIII but are rarely enforced today
In some cases, the paper reported, large numbers of properties have been registered – St Cuthbert’s Church in Lytham, Lancashire, has registered 5,725 addresses, while St Andrew’s Church in Gorleston-on-Sea, near Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, has registered 854.
While the right could only be exercised if the chancel was in urgent need of repairs, recipients of the letters have suffered shock and upheaval.
Website designer Tim Acheson, a Catholic, said the liability towards repairs to grade I listed St Mary the Virgin in his home village of Braughing, Hertfordshire, hadn’t come up during conveyancing when he bought the property in 2009.
‘It means that the value of your home can be written off at any time and it is handing the church the power to make people bankrupt overnight,’ he told the paper.
Writer Miranda Seymour, whose biographies include a book on Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, was told her home, Thrumpton Hall in Nottinghamshire, had been registered by nearby All Saints Church.

‘I am vehemently opposing it,’ she said.

Experts warned that the cost of obtaining chancel liability insurance was likely to rise for those included on the list and that some property owners had paid their local PCC up to £500,000 to buy out their liability.
A spokesman for the Church of England said the Land Registry had advised that PCCs had a duty to consider who was responsible for the upkeep of their chancel.
‘A parochial church council can decide not to enforce chancel repair liability,’ he said.
‘It can 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 PCC.’

1 Comment

Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic

One response to “Homeowners face huge bills for repair to churches under ancient laws – regardless of their religion

  1. Anyone affected by the chancel repair liability scandal MUST contact their local MP and ask him/her to push for immediate and full implementation of the recommendations of the definitive Law Commission report on the problem (Law Comm. 152).

    It’s time to end this medieval madness of persecution of innocent people by the Church over feudal system rights. Village church councils cannot be trusted with this much power. Only new legislation, as recommended by the Law Commission, can achieve that. A coordinated national campaign is needed to fight against the unacceptable legal and moral situation. Keep a list of press coverage so victims in different parishes can find each other join together.

    The entire legal basis of CRL is questionable and open the challenge. The judgement on the case of Aston Cantlow PCC v Wallbank (2001) provides information on the legal issues which are essential knowledge for those affected and their solicitors.

    I’ll do whatever I can to help those affected. Here in Braughing, Hertfordshire, we are also affected. Find me on Twitter: @timacheson

    Like

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