We live in a small country parish that finds it difficult to raise funds to maintain our large medieval church. At a recent PCC meeting a member said the pop star who has recently bought the manor house next to the church might be liable to contribute to the costs. Another member thought that the Cambridge college that owns all the farmland in the village was liable to contribute. A third person thought that Lady Agatha Thurible, the patron of the living who lives in London, must pay. Who is correct?
Historically, some people have had the responsibility of paying for the upkeep, not of the whole church, only the chancel, that responsibility arising from ownership of certain land. It has been estimated that about 5,200 churches (mostly rural and pre-Reformation) benefit from it, and that over 3.5 million acres of land are involved in England alone.
Since the pop star and Cambridge college both own land it is possible that either or both may be liable to contribute. Lady Agatha, as patron of the living, has important rights in connection with the appointment of an incumbent, but unless she owns land with a liability for chancel repairs she cannot be made to pay.
It would be a matter of complex legal and historical research to find out whether your church benefits from chancel repair liability. The land does not necessarily need to be anywhere near the church and the rights and responsibilities do not only arise in the case of country churches.
However, liability for chancel repair may be lost for ever unless an appropriate entry is made with the Land Registry by 13 October 2013. It is important, therefore, that parishes which benefit from chancel repair liability take appropriate steps to protect their interests. They should consult their archdeacon or diocesan registrar as a first step.