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Chancel Repair

“I occupy commercial premises and my company has received a demand from a local parish church for payment of the annual church rate. Is this the same as chancel repair liability?”

The notice is headed ‘Formal notice of church rate due’ and contains a local council rating reference number, rateable values and the amount of rates due. A remittance advice states that payment has to be made within four weeks. The notice is from a church in the locality of your office in the City of London.

Payment of this church rate is voluntary, as you will see from close inspection of the notice. Compulsory Church Rates were abolished in 1868. Section 1 of the Compulsory Church Rate Abolition Act 1868 made church rate demands unenforceable in any court.

However, the Church of England continued to issue demands, inserting the word ‘voluntary’. The Church of England’s Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measures 1956 (No 3) transferred the powers to parochial church councils, which now have the power to collect a voluntary church rate.

It has been suggested that formal demands are sent by the churches in the hope that busy staff in accounts departments will treat them as just another invoice. Chancel repair liability is also dealt with by the appropriate church council but payment is not voluntary.

The 2003 House of Lords case involving the church council of Ashton Cantlow demonstrated that chancel repair liability, which attaches to former glebe land, is enforceable. The origins for liability lie in the medieval period and liability has been absorbed into common law.

Until October 2013, by which date church rights to charge chancel repairs will need to be registered, it is necessary to carry out a search at the National Archives. However, records are incomplete and if there is any uncertainty, insurance may be required.

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