A guide to chancel repair liability insurance

If you live within the parish boundaries of a medieval church, you could be hit with a hefty bill for chancel repairs – at any time. Find out more about chancel repair liability insurance and whether it might make sense for you.

If you live within the parish boundaries of a medieval church, you could be hit with a hefty bill for chancel repairs – at any time. Find out more about chancel repair liability insurance and whether it might make sense for you.

Rachel Lacey
Insurance and money expert
4
minute read
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Last Updated 1 DECEMBER 2022

What is chancel repair liability?

Chancel repair liability is an obligation to help pay for church repairs – and it could affect you if you own a house in England or Wales that’s within the boundaries of a parish church that was built before 1536.

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. 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.

Thankfully, following changes to chancel repair liability in 2013, the chances of being served by a bill are comparatively slim. But, if you are unlucky enough to be hit, the bill could be astronomical.

One high-profile case that went as far as the House of Lords, saw a couple landed with a bill of more than £95,000 for repairs to a church on land that they owned. The couple were forced to sell their own home to pay it.

Who’s liable for chancel repair?

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a church-goer or not. According to the ancient legislation, your liability for chancel repairs comes down to your address – and whether or not it’s within the boundaries of a parish 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 committed to consult on ways of closing historic loopholes around chancel repairs. But the project, which was due to finish in 2020, is yet to actually begin.

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

You should be able to find out whether you’re liable for chancel repairs by checking your property’s title deeds. Beware though – no news doesn’t necessarily mean good news, because the relevant information may not be recorded on the deeds.

To double-check, it’s worth asking your solicitor to do a ‘chancel check’, which typically costs between £20 and £100.

If you find out you’re liable for chancel repairs, you might want to think about chancel indemnity insurance, also known as chancel repair liability insurance.

What is chancel repair liability insurance?

Chancel repair liability insurance could cover your costs if you’re served with a chancel repair bill.

There are two kinds of chancel repair insurance:

  • No search has been done and you’re insuring against the possibility of being liable.
  • There’s a known liability that you’re aware of, which you’re insuring against a claim being made.

Chancel repair liability insurance is available from specialist providers. You can’t compare chancel repair liability insurance with Comparethemarket but we can help if you’re looking for home insurance.

How much does chancel repair liability insurance cost?

Unlike most other types of insurance, chancel repair liability insurance is a one-off payment. However, the cost depends on the type of policy you take out.

If you haven’t had a search carried out, meaning you’re only insuring against the possibility of being liable, then it’s likely to cost in the region of £20.

If you’ve been made aware that you’re liable and you’re insuring against a future claim being made, your insurance is likely to be more expensive, starting at around £40.

How long does chancel repair liability insurance cover me for?

How long your cover lasts depends on the policy you buy, so it’s important that you read the wording carefully.

Some policies last 25 years, some for as long as you own the property, while others will cover it forever, even if the owners change.

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