VILLAGERS hit by a 500-year-old law which could see them having to pay towards church repairs are meeting church representatives this week as part of attempts to get it quashed.
Cindy Parsonage says it has been a “living nightmare” since being informed that she and three others may have to stump up towards future repairs of St Peter’s, Humbleton, East Yorkshire.
Yesterday was the deadline for parishes to notify owners and the Land Registry free of charge to which parcels of land Chancel Repair Liability (CRL) applies.
When people bought lands that had been taken from monasteries hundreds of years ago, they took over the duty as “lay rectors” to help repair their local church.
The Diocese of York says it has been notified of four parishes, including Felixkirk, Hambleton and Sheriff Hutton, Ryedale, but say there may be more.
Cindy, a store assistant at Asda, was only informed in September of the liability on her house in Humbleton, near Aldbrough.
The original solicitors’ searches on the land where they have since built a new house had not bought it up.
She said: “When it came through I thought what is it? Is it a joke? I’d never heard of it, then I looked into it and realised it was real and I was devastated. I feel quite victimised knowing that there are 32 other houses in Humbleton that could have been served but because of the size of their plots they decided not to pursue them.”
Cindy, together with the owner of Humbleton Hall Farm, Mick Wood, who has also been told he is liable, is due to be meeting the vicar and the villager who did the research tomorrow to look at the papers, to see on what evidence the CRLs were based.
She added: “How can this be Christian? Does it not say in the Bible ‘love thy neighbour?’ I don’t feel very loved by them. It is just a constant worry.”
Mr Wood said people couldn’t sit back and relax thinking the deadline had passed: “People can’t sit back and think ‘we haven’t been charged’. “They can still do it – it’s £40 for the first property, and £20 for every property after that within the same parish.”
Earlier this year St Wilfrid’s Church, Brayton, asked for forgiveness after de-registering householders who’d been informed that they were liable for CRL.
Eleanor Course, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of York, said tensions that had been caused by registering claims were “very unfortunate”.
She said: “Parochial church councils all over the UK have has been checking whether any properties in the parish are legally responsible for CRL, and informing the owners and the Land Registry. This is in response to a deadline set by the Government, which is encouraging all Church Councils to register which properties are liable for CRL before October 13. Over the centuries the lands have changed hands many times, but the duty to help repair the church has often stayed in force.
“Local church councils are now in a difficult position. As trustees of the church they have a responsibility to care for it for generations to come, and many PCCs have registered the CRL as it is an asset which PCCs in decades to come may want to utilise. Sometimes the landowner is a centuries-old institution that has always known it holds the liability.
“But sometimes the owners are now private householders, and some are understandably unhappy to be told or reminded that they hold liability.
“If that information comes from someone in the same community – a member of the local church council – it can make for tension and difficulty.
“In registering the claim, the PCC are not asking for money now, and they may choose never to do so. At some future stage, if repairs are actually needed, the PCC will need to decide whether it is going to put its right to collect contributions into effect. It will take a number of factors into account, including the amount that is involved.”