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I am only buying a house - why do I need a Chancel Search?

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This search is commissioned to reveal whether the property you are proposing to buy may be affected by a potential “Chancel Repair” obligation to the local Parish Church. Basically, any property located within the boundaries of a Parish where such a liability exists could be “caught”. The penalty is financial in that it involves having to pay for the upkeep and repair of the chancel of the local mediaeval parish church.

It all dates back to medieval times, when Churches (or more specifically their Chancels) were maintained by wealthy land owners.  Since those times what used to be large estates of land have now been broken down in to many thousands of privately owned properties, yet the potential for chancel repair liabilities has been passed down to successive owners of the land or buildings.

Chancel land accounts for approximately 40% of all land in England and Wales. Chancel land and chancel repair liabilities can trace their roots back to medieval times, when every parish had its own priest or rector. The rector by the nature of his status had a number of rights, including certain taxes or income from the land of the parish. The cost of repairs to the church was split between the rector and the parishioners, with the parishioners traditionally being responsible for the western end of a church (the area where they sat) and the rector was responsible for repairs to the chancel (the eastern end of a Church). The rector being was able to pay for repairs from the income of his ‘Glebe’ land and tithes.

What is the Chancel search ?

There are two types of searches are available – a Chancel Check Search or a Full Chancel Search.

The basic Chancel Check Search reveals whether property is located within a parish that could charge for repairs to the chancel. It does not show whether or not the actual subject property is located on land that has this responsibility but does indicate a certain level of risk.  The cost is about £15.

The full Chancel Search is much more expensive; however it would reveal whether the actual subject property was liable.

If positive results are revealed in either case, then it is possible to obtain indemnity insurance to insure against future claims being made against you.

Thankfully these archaic laws are changing, and once 12 October 2013 has passed, unless the Church has expressed a specific interest in your property (by noting their interest at the Land Registry) new owners will not bound by the repairing obligation.  To clarify that a little more – if your property has a Chancel repairing obligation and the Church has not registered it at the Land Registry you will still be liable until the property is sold and the new owner will be free of it and the property will no longer be at risk.