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Covering the cost of maintaining your local church

Around 5,200 parishes can demand that home owners pay for chancel repairs, in which case buyers need insurance

SIMON WHITE, DIRECTOR, LONDON’S CHARTERED SURVEYORS
SIMON WHITE, DIRECTOR, LONDON’S CHARTERED SURVEYORS

It’s not often that you come up against something completely new – something you’ve never heard of before.

Last month this happened to me, and it appeared in the guise of ’chancel repair liability’. Not surprisingly it’s to do with churches. Anyway, there I was, minding my own business surveying a big Gothic pile in Twickenham when the buyer arrived and asked if my report would comment on chancel liability.

Being a professional of immense experience I held my nerve, looked her steadily in the eye and said ’yes’, while not having a clue what she was talking about.

As you can imagine I am now the country’s leading expert on this topic, to the extent that it will be my specialist subject when I eventually take my rightful place on Mastermind with that nice man from Radio 4’s Today programme.

In short, chancel repair liability is an annual charge that anyone can unknowingly find themselves saddled with if they buy a house in the vicinity of a church, as was the case in Twickenham.

The charge can be levied on certain unlucky property owners in England and Wales to fund repairs to their local church – and this is a liability that runs with the land and is in perpetuity.

It’s covered by the Chancel Repair Act 1932, and is a liability that dates back to medieval times when churches – or more specifically their chancels – were maintained at the expense of wealthy landowners

Anyone can be saddled with the liability if they purchase a property in the vicinity of a church

As if you didn’t know, the chancel is situated at the eastern end of a church and reserved for use by the clergy and the choir.

In other words, it’s the bit beneath the big stained window that ordinary folks are not allowed into.

This liability could affect the value of a property and to avoid this eventuality insurance is available, with premiums being paid annually.

And it’s no small beer either, as in England and Wales there are approximately 5,200 church parishes that can demand payment in this way.

Get this – in 2008 a couple had to pay £186,986 plus VAT towards the cost of maintaining St John the Baptist Church in Aston Cantlor near Stratford-upon-Avon.

In addition, the couple incurred legal costs of around £220,000 – and all because they owned a nearby farmhouse.

The only other arrangements I have dealt with along the same lines are agricultural and medical ties.

Agricultural ties affect buildings in the countryside and mean that the properties in question have to be used for farming or related purposes. In other words, you can’t just buy a place in the country to use as a house.

In practice, this tends to reduce values by around a third and is the sort of thing that is likely to deter many lenders, particularly in the current climate.

Medical ties affect properties in the Harley Street district of central London, where the properties affected can only be sold to and used by those in the medical profession who must continue to use them for this purpose.

As if valuations weren’t already difficult enough at the moment. Bring on that John Humphries – I’m ready for him.

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