A guide to chancel repair liability insurance

If you live within the parish boundaries of a medieval church, you could be presented with a hefty bill for chancel repair liability, at any time. It might be worth considering chancel repair liability insurance – here’s what you need to know...

If you live within the parish boundaries of a medieval church, you could be presented with a hefty bill for chancel repair liability, at any time. It might be worth considering chancel repair liability insurance – here’s what you need to know...

Chris King
From the Home team
3
minute read
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Posted 14 JANUARY 2021

What is chancel repair liability?

Chancel repair liability is a traditional financial liability that could potentially be imposed on anyone in England or Wales who owns land within the boundaries of a parish church built before 1536. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re certainly not alone.

Simply put, if you own a home or a commercial property near a medieval church, that church may be within its rights to bill you for chancel repairs. That’s any part of the church containing the altar and the choir

It’s a law that dates back to medieval times, when, after Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, a large amount of property that had belonged to rectories came into lay ownership. The new owners had the same responsibility for repairs to the church as the former owners had.

Although changes were made to chancel repair liability in 2013, it’s still in force. The good news is that the chances of being served with a bill are relatively small. On the other hand, if you’re very unlucky, you could find yourself facing a bill of astronomical proportions.

For example, a famous case went as far as the House of Lords where a couple ended up having to pay £95,000 (plus interest) for repairs to a church on farmland they owned. It meant having to sell the farm to cover the repairs and their legal bill.

Who’s liable for chancel repair?

You don’t have to go to church to be liable to pay chancel repairs – it’s a matter of whether you live within the parish boundaries of a medieval church.

In theory, chancel repair liability shouldn’t affect people who bought land after 2013 – unless the church registered that liability. But, in practice, it’s a complicated area.

The Law Commission has promised to research and consult on ways of closing historic loopholes around chancel repairs. The project was due to be completed by 2020 but hasn’t yet started - and there’s no date set for the work.

How do I know if I’m liable for chancel repair?

Hopefully, you should be able to find out what your liability status is by checking your property’s title deeds. Beware though – no news doesn’t necessarily mean good news because it isn’t always recorded.  
 
So, even if there’s no evidence of a church having registered a claim for chancel repair, it could be worth asking your solicitor to do a ‘chancel check’, just to be sure. It will typically cost from £20 to £100.  
 
You can also take out chancel indemnity insurance.  

Where can I get chancel repair liability insurance?

If you’re concerned about the prospect of chancel repair liability, you can buy chancel repair liability insurance from a specialist provider for a one-off payment.

There are two kinds of chancel repair insurance:

  • No search has been done and you’re insuring against the possibility of being liable. This is relatively cheap – maybe around £20 upwards.
  • There’s a known liability that you’re aware of, which you’re insuring against a claim being made. This can be a bit more expensive, at around £40 upwards.

Please note that you can’t compare chancel repair liability insurance with Compare the Market. But, we can help if you’re looking for home insurance. Compare now and see if you could save.

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