Chancel Repair

Chancel Repair Liability 

The chancel is at the east end of the church - often where the choir and clergy sit, and containing the sanctuary, where the altar is.

In the middle ages, in some places, the people of the village had responsibilty for the nave (where they sat), and someone else (eg the local lord or another bigger church) had responsibilty for looking after the chancel.  This responsibility became linked with land, and was handed down through inhertiance or purchase.  The person who owned the land was/is known as the lay rector. 

Now, with the passage of years, some people own land whcih carries this responsibilty/liability, but may not know it;  other land owners will know about their responsibilities in this regard. 

In order to remove confusion, Parliament now requires churches to register this liability with the Land Registry by Nov 2013.  PCCs need to do this in order not to lose the financial help which might come through this route.  However, in some cases, the cost of finding the lay rectors and registering the land may be much greater than the possible benefits; or the damage to local relationships may outweigh the financial advantages.  So the Charity Commissioners, which make sure that the trustees of charities act in the best interests of the charity, may waive this requirement in certain cases. 

Finding whether your church has a lay rector (the person who owns the land which carries this liability) is quite complex.  In the 1920s and 1930s, the Government carried out a tidying up process for tithes, and in doing this they produced documents called Records of Ascertainments.  The Record of Ascertainments for your parish is a list of tithe numbers shown on the Tithe Map which are subject to chancel repair liability, with an amount of money (in old money – pounds, shillings and pence) against each number.  Tithe Maps were produced in the 19th century to record tithes payable. Each plot of land shown on it is numbered with a tithe number. You can identify the land which has the liability by finding the tithe numbers from the Record of Ascertainments on the map.  You would then need to compare the 19th century Tithe Map with a modern map to see who owns the land now - that person will be the lay rector!

Three copies of each of the Records of Ascertainments were produced - one for the parish, one for the county, and one for national records.  The nationally kept Records are now in Kew;  the county-held Records may be a bit more patchy;  the parish held records are much more patchy in both condition and completeness.  Tithe Maps are also kept at Kew and at County Record Offices. 

Roughly, churches founded before about 1530 may have a lay rector.  


Click here to go to the website of St Michael's Penkridge, which has lots of information about chancel repair liability

Click here to go to the Church Buildings Council webpages on Chancel Repair

Click here to go to the chancel repair webpages of the National Archives


The websites of other Dioceses may also have help and advice. 


In Carlisle Diocese, we are working on a Diocese-wide approach to this issue. 

Please see the documents below (especially the letter to Churchwardens) and the link, for more information

Simple Guide to Records of AscertainmentSimple Guide to Records of Ascertainment
File size  148kb    File date 25 Aug 2014
Commissioners' briefing on Chancel RepairCommissioners' briefing on Chancel Repair
File size  36kb    File date 29 Apr 2014
National Archives Chancel leafletNational Archives Chancel leaflet
File size  917kb    File date 29 Apr 2014