Should churches: a) be loving their neighbours, or b) using an obscure centuries old law to stick them with cost of repairing buildings they may never have set foot in?
What is Chancel Repair Liability?
According to the Land Registry:
Chancel repair liability requires landowners to pay for the repair of the chancel (the part of the church containing the altar and the choir) of an Anglican parish church.
When local rectors owned land in the parish, they were responsible for repairing the chancel using money produced from the land.
Monasteries often acquired this land together with the responsibility for paying for the repair of the chancel.
When Henry Vlll sold the monasteries’ land, the liability to pay for the repair of the chancel remained with the land sold.
Why are we discussing this now?
Because as the BBC reports there has been another high profile case of a homeowner being stung by a CRL:
When Elaine Hession opened the letter she almost passed out and her partner Jonathan Hill turned “as white as a ghost”.
Last month the couple received a notice from the Land Registry informing them their local church had registered its right to make them contribute to the cost of repairs…..Mr Hill, a builder, said he had spent about £100,000 renovating the home he inherited from his father Frank in Stottesdon, Shropshire, but he now fears it has been devalued because of the registration made by the local parochial church council (PCC).
“It is medieval madness,” said the 41-year-old, whose father is buried on the land and “loved the property”.
Ms Hession said she could not believe what she was reading when the notice arrived.
“I had a vague notion of chancel repair liability but we were astounded to receive it,” she said.
Since the shock of the letter, the couple have set up a Facebook campaign and met with Ludlow Conservative MP Philip Dunne alongside dozens of others in the same situation.
Is there are broader problem?
Yes, the National Secular Society – which is campaigning for the liability to be abolished – explains that:
The liability is due whether or not the landowners are Anglicans, or even Christians.
In some cases, payment could be for the full cost of repairs, sometimes running into hundreds of thousands of pounds, but normally the cost will be shared with others locally.
Registration notices have been served on the owners of around 12,000 properties but many more properties are subject to CRL despite those properties not been registered.
Some people have been traumatised by the realisation that their property is subject to CRL, but many have not yet realised just how damaging CRL could be.
Few potential buyers will contemplate taking on the burden of a property subject to CRL, particularly where it is registered, so its value will be reduced and, in some cases, may become unsellable.
The Law Commission described the impact of CRL as “wholly capricious”, and described CLR as a “relic of the past”. They said it was “hard today to see any justification for this imposition” and concluded that it was “no longer acceptable”.
So there are legal and policy issues, how about religious ones?
As a Christian and a Churchgoer, if my church had the option to take advantage of a CRL, my question would be this: “if we behave in this way, how will that impact how the people paying out will view Christianity? How much credibility will we have if we tell them our ethics are about ‘loving your neighbours’ and ‘doing to others as we would have done to us’? Can using a CLR really be the Christian thing to do?”