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Couple face ruin over church

An elderly couple are facing financial ruin in a landmark case which could have dire consequences for property owners across the country.

The unusual court case is being fought between a Mr and Mrs Wallbank and the Church of England.

The Wallbanks took the Church of England to court after the latter insisted that the couple had to pay for the cost of repairs to a church which is located on farmland they own in Warwickshire.

The couple lost as a result of an obscure medieval law cited which places responsibility for the upkeep of churches with the owners of the land on which they stand.

The House of Lords ruled in favour of the Church of England three years ago, meaning the Wallbanks would be responsible for the hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of repairs that are needed to the church’s chancel – the space around the altar.

It also effectively meant that the Church of England could hunt down every other home owner across 5,000 parishes in England and Wales whose house, patios or gardens have been built on old church land.

Old church land also forms part of communal and council land including that used for hospitals, schools, housing estates and sports grounds.

But the Wallbanks didn’t take the ruling lying down and contested the case. At a High Court hearing on February 5 a decision will be made on how much the Wallbanks will have to pay.

This will set a precedent which could open the floodgates for parishes to demand payments from residents. It also means the Wallbanks could have to pay for years of legal costs which could amount to 500,000.

But the Church of England says the law has been around for centuries and has not prompted a flood of similar cases.

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Dear Delia

Dear Delia

Nicola recently got divorced. She received a lump sum in the settlement enabling her to satisfy 2,930 of County Court judgements six months ago. She has a 10% deposit and will be buying a property in her sole name. Her previous business as an IT recruitment consultant was dissolved at the time of her break-up but she has now set up another agency in her own name and has been trading for nine months. What options are available?

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