Historic church tax finally ends in Saffron Walden

St Mary's Church in Saffron Walden

St Mary's Church in Saffron Walden - Credit: Archant

St Mary’s Church is giving up its historic rights to charge home owners in Saffron Walden for repairs to the roof of the chancel.

It means no existing home owner within the town need worry any longer about the potential demand to support repair work at the church, and no one buying a property in Saffron Walden need take out insurance against chancel repair liability.

‘Chancel repair liability’ dates back to mediaeval times when the Rector, the member of the clergy holding the parish benefice, was responsible for repairing the roof of his church. Where a monastery held the benefice, as Walden Abbey did in Saffron Walden, it was responsible for repairing their chancel roof.

When the monasteries were closed in the 1530s the responsibility passed to the new owners of their land, and to their successors over the generations. The liability was never formally abolished and in recent years some owners in different parts of the country have faced demands for payments they had never anticipated.

Following a national review, legal liability for chancel repairs will now end in October this year unless a church has registered its right against every property to which the historic arrangements apply.

St Mary’s Parochial Church Council has resolved not to register its rights, and thus removed a potential burden from more than 3,600 home owners in Saffron Walden. No repairs to the chancel roof of St Mary’s are planned before October this year.

The Charity Commission has considered the church’s decision, and has accepted that St Mary’s is acting reasonably in terms of charity law, given the particular circumstances in the Saffron Walden parish.

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The Rector, Rev David Tomlinson, said: “Looking to this outdated law to finance some remedial work on the church building would run contrary to our aim to share God’s love and to serve the people of Saffron Walden.

“I am delighted that we have been able to clarify this matter and to let all the residents of Saffron Walden know there is no need to take out insurance against this historic liability.

“St Mary’s is a magnificent parish church – there for everyone – and I am sure that the Parochial Church Council, along with all those who love and value it, will be determined to maintain it in good condition for successive generations.”