Chancel repair liability AKA churches acting like dicks

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?

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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?”

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8 thoughts on “Chancel repair liability AKA churches acting like dicks

  1. ‘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’? ‘
    Quite – it seems like bringing Christianity into disrepute.

  2. Churches don’t want to do this. Churches want this liability to be abolished too.

    Here’s how it works.

    If you are a church and you need to repair the building, and you don’t have enough money coming in in the collection to do so, you have to apply for grants. There are funds and things for this sort of work.

    However, the funds are meant to be a last resort for organisations which can’t meet their obligations in any other way. You’re not supposed to apply to the fund instead of, for example, running some bring-and-buy sales and putting on fundraising talent shows and whatnot.

    So in order to qualify for the money from the fund, you have to prove you have tried every other possible way of getting the money and it has failed.

    Chancel repair liability is one of these ways of getting the money.

    So: if your church is falling down you are required to pursue anyone with a chancel repair liability through the courts, or you can’t apply for heritage fund money to do the repair.

    Churches don’t want to do this: it’s an amazing amount of legal hassle, the money never comes anyway because the people who have the liability on their properties don’t have it, and the churches know how it makes them look.

    But they legally have no other choice: it’s that or the building falls down.

    So churches want Parliament to abolish this liability. If the liability ceases to exist by statute, then it no longer becomes a way for the churches to get the money, so the churches can get on with applying to the heritage funds, which is what they wanted to do in the first place, without being told, ‘no, you haven’t exhausted every other route, go and sue for your chancel repair money and then come back to us if that fails.’

    • From April 2013 English Heritage were no longer responsible for grants for places of worship – Heritage Lottery Fund took over – and they made a statement saying they would not be encouraging PCCs to pursue chancel repair liability! If the Government repeal CRL legislation they will have to compensate the Church of England for the loss so this is not likely to happen. We are not church-goers and do not want to have to use our hard earned money to pay for church repairs. The CofE has 5.2 billion pounds invested in Wonga, arms and other investments – they need to tuck into some of that and leave ordinary people alone!

      • Elaine, you are absolutely right, no PCC needed to do this and I am sick of hearing that excuse from self-serving PCC members and their apologists.
        PCC members were covering their own backs. They chose to persecute their neighbours grievously and unnecessarily. These little village clique need to take responsibility not blame other factors.
        Tweet me at @timacheson and let’s join forces.

    • No, It is NOT true that churches did not want to do this.
      Parish church councils did not need to do this and most did not do so. Church council members did this to cover their own backs. They chose to persecute their own neighbours most grievously, to save themselves from a perceived risk of PCC members being personally liable. They cannot hide behind the law or compulsion. The Charities Commission made it very clear that this was optional, as did English Heritage and even the Church its self.

  3. I previously assumed that the Church is benign. I now know that it is not benign, and this has prompted me to look more closely at the organisation that’s unnecessarily persecuting me and my family and so many others — and I am profoundly disturbed by what I have leared.

    I have heard members of this Church expressing disapproval of this persecution and that is welcome. But talk is cheap. I have not yet seen a single one of them taking any action to save the victims. We need your help.

    I can’t imagine Jesus doing this to me. Can you?

  4. The answer to the question is emphatic: the CRL should be abolished. Instantly and with the enthusiastic backing of the church. I speak as a Christian and an Anglican.

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