The BBC Hereford & Worcester website reports that the Charity Commission has told the Parochial Church Council of St Eadburgha’s, Broadway, that it will not be obliged to enforce chancel repair liability. The BBC quotes a spokesperson for the Commission as follows:
“The advice was given based on the particular facts of this case and not as a matter of general precedent, since the circumstances relating to decisions of PCCs about registering or enforcing chancel repair liability will vary considerably from case to case.
“We are not endorsing the decision itself, nor are we granting trustees permission to do something beyond their existing powers, we are simply providing additional assurance that the trustees’ decision was reasonable given the charity’s circumstances.”
There was no sign of any written statement from the Commission either on the Internet or elsewhere.
The decision was warmly welcomed by the priest-in-charge, Michelle Massey, who oversees both St Eadburgha’s and St Michael and All Angels and by the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge. However, it received a more guarded response from the local MP, Peter Luff, who pointed out that it set no general precedent in relation to chancel repair liability, nor did it give an absolute guarantee to local residents in Broadway that the liability would never be enforced in the future.
Comment: The carefully-balanced opinion of the Legal Advisory Commission of the General Synod, Enforcement of chancel repair liability by PCCs, is still on the Legal opinions and other guidance section of the Church of England website – and presumably still stands.
In my previous post about chancel repair I implied that, because the issue went to the fiduciary duties of trustees, a decision not to enforce the liability was not to be taken lightly. In a response, michaeljameshall argued that PCCs had “the perfect right to decide against registration” and that the Legal Advisory Commission’s opinion recognised that right. Which is perfectly correct; but the opinion is somewhat guarded as to how a PCC that does not propose to register or enforce liability should proceed:
“15 … [A] PCC would be well advised to seek legal advice before forming a view that it would not wish to register a notice of, or enforce, a liability to which it is entitled.
16 Additionally, the Commission strongly recommends that if a PCC considers, after careful consideration of the principle described above, that it would be contrary to its interests to enforce chancel repair liability to which it is entitled, or to register notice of it, the PCC should seek formal advice from the Charity Commission on whether not enforcing the liability would be consistent with the fiduciary duties of its members.”.
In short, the Charity Commission’s advice – as Peter Luff suggests – is specific to the individual circumstances and the more general issue is by no means settled.