Ancient law could cripple homeowners

A law dating back to Henry VIII could mean huge bills for homeowners.

Thousands of unwitting home owners could be subject to large bills to help repair their local churches.

The legally binding responsibility may not have been included in their house deeds.

Those who did know about the responsibility have taken out insurance to cover them for claims but many others may not be covered.

The Land Registry is currently working to register information on all the affected properties as the law changes from an over-riding interest.

As it currently stands the affected properties do not have to be registered against title at the Land Registry, but it is nevertheless protected by law and is binding on any new owner, regardless of whether they were aware of the existence of such a potential burden.

But from October 12 next year, chancel repair liability will no longer be an over-riding interest and should be registered against title at the Land Registry.

If the chancel repair liability is not registered, then it will only be the current owners, not subsequent purchasers, who are stuck with the obligation.

One Tory MP, Peter Luff, says there could be: “An awful lot of people whose lives are about to be blighted and their homes unsaleable.”

In one affected parish, 30 people near 12th-century St Eadburgha in Gloucestershire have received letters from the Land Registry warning them of their obligation, and giving them two weeks to lodge objections.

The local vicar, the Rev Michelle Massey, has described the letter as ‘vicious’ and the law as unchristian. She warned that many other parishes are set to follow suit.

Potentially affected home owners are urged to quickly protect their rights by taking out liability insurance.

No charge is made by the Land Registry for applications before October 13 next year. After that, there will be fees.

The Charity Commission has warned that they if they do not register in time, individual members of the Parochial Church Council could be liable for the repairs or even found in breach of their legal duties as trustees.

The Church of England said that English Heritage has also made clear that it would not provide grants for repairs to historic churches if parishioners’ had a legal duty which was not imposed.

With what effectively is a centralised register being put in place, what will this this mean for conveyancers? With such large bills possibly heading their way will home owners look to sue if they have not been made aware of the obligation?

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