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A campaign to reform the mediaeval law on chancel repair liability has been declared a success by Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff.
This hangover from the dissolution of the monasteries that risked thousands of households facing huge bills for the repair of local churches has now been “tamed” according to the MP in what he described as “a victory for common sense and pragmatism.”

Peter said,

“We now have very helpful guidance from the Charity Commission, a constructive approach to funding church repairs from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and a way forward for people to reach a legally binding agreement with Parochial Church Councils (PCCs) not to enforce the liability.

“And the great thing is the large institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge colleges who have land to which the liability attaches will not be exempt from payment, so an important source of funds is secured for the maintenance of historic churches.”

Since his Commons debate on 17th October, Mr Luff has met representatives of the Church of England and has been reassured that his remaining area of concern (the continuation of the legal liability for residents in areas even where the Parochial Church council decided not to register the liability, until the first sale of the property after October 2013) can be addressed using existing procedures.

The events in Broadway, William Fittall, the Secretary General at the Church of England says, mean that the Chancel Repair Liability issue is now “a good deal clearer and more satisfactory that it was previously.”

In a letter to Peter Luff MP, following the recent meeting, the Secretary General wrote,

“Previously the Charity Commission’s position had been that no general guidance could be given and that it was only being prepared to consider individual applications for advice. Following Broadway, however, the guidance that is now available on the Charity Commission’s website explains that chancel repair liability need not be enforced in every case.”

The letter went on to say that,

“The other significant development is the statement that has been made by the Heritage Lottery Fund who will take over responsibility for the grants repair scheme for places of worship next April. They have said that they will not continue English Heritage’s blanket policy that treats chancel repairs as outside the scope of grant aid where there is a lay rector. They have also said that they will not encourage PCCs to pursue chancel repair liability where it is unreasonable for them to do so.

“These two developments should make matters much less difficult for PCCs when it comes to balancing their fiduciary responsibilities with their responsibility to support the Church’s mission. While the Broadway issues have been enormously difficult and time consuming for all concerned it has, as a result of your considerable efforts, helped move us to a much better place.”

On the possible risk that a PCC could change its mind and decide to enforce the liability at a later date even though the property was not registered, Mr Fittall explained,

“Our lawyers believe it would be possible for a PCC ... to enter into deeds with the owners of properties affected by chancel repair liability under which the PCC would agree not to register or enforce the liability against the owners. .... I will ask the Legal office here to do some work on this with a view to guidance being passed on to diocesan registrars and diocesan secretaries.”

Commenting Peter said,

“I am delighted with this outcome. Although the situation in Broadway was very distressing for residents who were liable for this archaic tax, I am pleased that events in the Cotswold village have played such an important role in helping to resolve the issue once and for all for other parishes faced with similar circumstances. And of course I am delighted the threat of this huge financial burden has been removed from my constituents.

“This letter provides the reassurances that PCCs need in order to deal with chancel repair liability without burdening members of their communities.”


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