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“The attractive Worcestershire village of Broadway may be witnessing the first act in a drama that threatens to being chaos and conflict to communities the length and breadth of the country.”

This warning comes from Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff is attending a public meeting in the Cotswold village next Friday (27th) to discuss the impact of an old law imposing the full cost of repairing a large part of picturesque churches on people who own houses or other property on former church land.

The Chancel Repair Liability imposes an obligation on these so-called “lay rectors” to pay the cost of restoring the part of the church known as the Chancel – the area used primarily by the rector of the church. But many people just don’t know they are living in a property to which this obligation attaches.

An amendment by the last government to a 1932 law now forces the body responsible for running the affected churches, the parochial church council (PCC), to send out notices via the Land Registry informing people of their obligation. The 1932 law codified a right going back centuries and applies to around 5,200 churches in England. The 2003 amendment effectively obliges PCCs to register the obligations of “lay rectors” before October 2013. If they don’t do so, they will be in breach of their obligations under charity law and members of the PCC personally liable for their failure to act.

Peter explained,

“The effect is to make people living in houses on the relevant land aware of their obligation to pay potentially many thousands of pounds to restore historic churches. And this is what has happened in Broadway and what I understand is likely to happen in thousands of other communities, including many in Worcestershire.

“In the last few weeks around thirty households in Broadway have received letters out of the blue telling them they have an obligation to pay the costs of repairing the old church of St. Eadburgha which dates back to the 12th century, and is situated in Snowshill Road.

“The only way out of this I can see is for the Charity Commission to agree that PCCs should be exempted from their obligation to charge “lay rectors” or for a new law to abolish the liability altogether.

“The divisive impact on communities, often in villages can’t be overstated. The members of PCCs are forced to impose on their friends and neighbours a potentially crippling financial liability. And how does it look for the Church of England to finds itself having to threaten their own parishioners with this sort of burden?

“The last government failed to deal with the issue properly after a test case in the Warwickshire village of Aston Cantlow. But the chickens are only coming home to roost now. The current government is going to have to act to stop thousands of families from being faced with this out-of-date and morally unjustifiable burden.”

Peter Luff says he will consider his next steps after attending next Friday’s meeting, but he expects to have to secure the support of the national Church for a joint appeal to the government to abolish the liability altogether.


Note to editors: This is a complex issue involving both charity and ecclesiastical law. I think I have summarized the position with reasonable accuracy, but I am not a lawyer so you may also like to read this helpful background note from the Commons Library:

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