London and Surrey-based law firm Mackrell Turner Garrett have welcomed a decision to spare hundreds of homes in Horsell, Woking from Chancel Repair Liability (CRL).

More than 1500 households in Horsell have been spared the worst effects of an ancient law, dating back to the time of King Henry VIII, which gives some mediaeval churches the right to demand financial contributions towards repairs from local property owners.

The CRL, which dates back to the 1530s and was altered by Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, has been subject to several high profile court cases which have seen home owners in England forced to pay significant sums to effect repairs to their local church, with some even being forced to sell their homes to do so.

In a ground-breaking decision, the Parochial Church Council (PCC) of St. Mary the Virgin in Horsell, a mediaeval church which has been serving local parishioners for more than 800 years, has made the decision not to enforce or impose CRL on its parishioners and the wider community, most of whom would have been totally unaware of their financial responsibilities. It felt that its missionary and community objectives far outweighed the potential financial benefits.

Mackrell Turner Garrett (MTG), which has extensive experience of property legal matters, applauded the Horsell PCC decision.

Derek Austin, partner at the firm, said: “Chancel Repair Liability is a controversial law which has been under much scrutiny in the past few years. PCCs in England and Wales had until 13 October to register a notice of claim with the land registry against individual properties to preserve their rights – or potentially lose them.

“However, there are still some cases where PCCs can register a notice after 13 October and homeowners could still face liability, for example where a property is gifted to someone or left in a will. There are conflicting views within the legal profession as to the extent of continuing and future liability which may still need to be resolved by the courts.

“If only more church councils would follow the lead of Horsell PCC, property owners would know they can bury this ancient liability where it belongs in the annals of history, and avoid having to take out expensive insurance policies to cover the risks associated with Chancel Repair Liability.

“In recent years we have had to place indemnity policies on risk with premiums ranging from less than £50 to over £5,000 on some local properties. The recent changes in the law means this should no longer be necessary in most transactions in England and Wales, and as a result of the Horsell PCC decision we can say with certainty it will no longer be required for any properties located in the Horsell parish.”

The rights of mediaeval churches to claim money for repairs from households built on land that it once owned was confirmed in the Land Registry Act passed in 2002 and in various cases before the courts. However, in a move by the government ten years ago to abolish the law, churches that wanted to uphold the right to claim money were given until 13 October this year to register a claim against any liable properties.

Derek added: “I have had confirmation from the Land Registry that even though the deadline of 13 October 2013 has passed, notices from PCCs seeking to protect their ability to collect CRL from home owners may still be accepted. It will then be up to registered home owners to seek to overturn those notices on a case by case basis.

“Mackrell Turner Garrett can assist any property owners who receive notice of a claim in seeking to overturn it. Owners who have indemnity policies in place may be able to call upon their insurers for help, but they should take care not to inadvertently void the policy by taking any action which would breach the terms of the indemnity policy.”