PCC members and chancel repair liability
Many are concerned that members of parochial church councils (PCCs) could be held personally liable if they fail to enforce chancel repair liability.
In some cases, owners of former Church of England land are liable to pay for repairs to chancels of pre-reformation parish churches. The chancel is the part of the church near the altar reserved to the clergy and choir.
In theory, a PCC member could become personally liable for any loss caused to their PCC if he fails to take reasonable steps to protect and enforce the PCC’s chancel repair rights.
As charities, PCCs are regulated by the Charity Commission. The members have ultimate control for the management and administration of each PCC, including safeguarding and protecting its assets and acting in its best interests. Chancel repair rights are potentially a valuable asset of any PCC.
It follows that where a member acts in breach of his duties as a charity trustee, he may be personally liable for making good any resulting loss caused to the PCC. Members can be vulnerable to claims for breach of their duties where they have failed to take reasonable steps to identify, protect and enforce chancel repair rights.
The Charity Commission has power to relieve a charity trustee of personal liability for a breach of duty where he has ‘acted honestly and reasonably’ and ought fairly to be excused.
The deadline for protecting chancel repair liability is midnight on 12 October 2013. If, by then, a PCC has not identified and protected those rights, it risks losing the right to enforce liability against anyone who buys affected land on or after 13 October 2013.
Before the deadline, PCC members must take action to enter notices or lodge cautions against first registrations to avoid losing their PCC’s rights. If they fail to do so, it could be difficult to argue that they have fulfilled their duties as charitable trustees.
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