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St Clement's - no chancel repair liability in the Old Town, it is believed.

Chancel repair liability unlikely in Old Town

Property owners in Hastings Old Town can sleep a little easier in their beds in the knowledge that they are unlikely to be hit by any claims from the local parish churches for chancel repair funds, Nick Terdre writes.

The assessment comes from Jonathan Prichard, who as land registration project officer for the diocese of Chichester is advising parish church councils (PCCs) on the vexed issue of chancel repair liability (CRL).

“As far as I can see, there is no chancel repair liability in St Clements and All Saints parish,” Mr Prichard told HOT. “There is no Record of Ascertainment covering either church. Where there is chancel repair liability, it is usually listed in a Record of Ascertainment; the National Archives holds the fullest list of all records of ascertainment.”

CRL was created in Tudor times, when in exchange for land, local property owners undertook to provide funds for maintaining the chancel of the local church. It still exists, which has led to some players in the charity sphere suggesting that if PCCs which have the right to claim it, do not do so, they could find other sources of charity funding withheld.

The issue achieved national prominence when in 2003 Andrew and Gail Wallbank received a demand for £100,000 from Aston Cantlow PCC. They fought it in the courts and eventually lost. To clarify the issue, the government set a deadline of 13 October this year for PCCs to establish which properties in their area are subject to CRL and to register the liability with the Land Registry. The value of properties with the liability registered against them is expected to suffer.

Uncertainty remains

In cases where the liability is not registered, it will be extinguished the next time the property is sold. This point is important, as the registration process does not provide absolute certainty that no claim will ever be lodged against a property with no registered liability, Mr Prichard said. Possible relevant records may still exist in obscure places which could, as least in theory, form the basis for a claim. Against this background of uncertainty, the usual advice to avoid the risk of having to pay a CRL bill is to take out insurance.

Hastings resident John Dawes and his wife became aware of CRL when they initiated steps to buy a property in the Old Town last year. He felt it was unjust to have to buy insurance, because no-one could say with certainty whether the liability existed in the Old Town.

“It’s very hard to show that chancel repair liability doesn’t exist – it’s like trying to prove a negative,” said Mr Prichard, whose efforts to investigate the issue have made him a relative expert on the topic.

“In the process I’ve become more knowledgeable about CRL,” he said. “My advice to anyone who is moving, and is worried about liability, is to take all reasonable steps to find out if it exists, for example, asking me, looking into any deeds and asking the vendor whether there has ever been any claim or payment.”

Still concerned

However, Mr Dawes feels his concerns have not been answered. “Despite government demands following Wallbank/Aston Cantlow, PCCs have still not obeyed the requirement to register properties subject to CRL by October this year,” he told HOT. “After nearly 10 years, of the 5,800 chancels, less than 50 have bothered to register.

“Despite what Mr Prichard says, the liability does and will exist, however remote the probability. I think by contacting the PCC at a local level direct I have taken reasonable steps to ascertain if the liability exists.  Surely it is for those responsible for church administrative affairs to tell me if I owe them money or not?

“It may be a problematical muddle to clear up, but because of the failure of the church hierarchy to keep accurate records, the blame for this lies squarely with those who have ignored the consequences of their actions for decades, if not centuries.”

See also The spectre haunting the Old Town


Posted 10:47 Wednesday, Jan 30, 2013 In: Home Ground

Also in: Home Ground

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