October of this year saw the introduction of new rules on Chancel repair liability.
This is the liability of an owner of land to pay for repairs to the chancel of a parish church. Owners affected include individual homeowners as well as ecclesiastical organisations, universities, colleges and others. Land does not have to be near a church building in order to be liable.
The amount of this liability can often be significant and therefore this is an issue which you must ensure your legal advisor addresses when purchasing or remortgaging your home.
Prior to the change of law introduced in October this liability if it existed in an area including the property you were purchasing or remortgaging you would be exposed to a demand whether or not you were ware of its existence. For this reason a competent property lawyer would carry out a search to see if the liability existed and if it did to take out insurance to protect you if a claim was brought.
Since the 13th October the liability will, in general terms, only be binding on you if the person or body who has the right to make the claim has registered the liability with the Land Registry. In other words, you would only be exposed to the liability if notice of the existence is shown in the title document of the property to be purchased or remortgaged.
I say this is the general rule but there are situations when even if the liability was not registered prior to the 13th October at the Land Registry it may still be binding on you.
For registered land, where a notice has not been entered, liability for chancel repair will continue until the first transaction for value is registered at the Land Registry (not a dealing at nominal value or a gift or transfer on inheritance) after 13 October 2013.
This means if the right to claim for the cost of church repairs was not registered with the Land Registry by the 13th October, it could still be binding on you when purchasing a property after that date. If you are purchasing a property after the 13th October and there have been no change of ownership in the interim it is important to check the Land Registry register for any notice of chancel liability which may have been registered before you exchange contracts and to also ensure your solicitor takes steps with the Land Registry to provide you with a protection period between exchange of contracts and registration of your ownership with the Land Registry.
You should also consider taking out protection against the liability if you are remortgaging or gifting property
In the case of unregistered land, chancel repair liability will continue to exist in the same way; If any chancel repair liability is not protected by a notice or caution before your ownership is registered, you will take the property free from this liability.
In short when purchasing or remortgaging or gifting a property please ask you solicitor for reassurance that steps to protect you from this liability will be taken.