Monday, 5 March 2007

You won’t believe this

As part of my English degree I had to spend a year in England. I didn’t want to. I was in love with America and should have been studying there (I’ve already told the story of how it didn’t happen). I adored the English language but didn’t find England attractive at all – the weather, the food... Still, I had to go. I didn’t know much about the English or how to behave in their country so I bought a book. It had just come out and was entitled Comment vivre chez les Anglais (I still have it, although the advice given in it doesn’t really apply any more: it’s a wonderful snapshot of the country in the late ’60s). It was an invaluable resource: it told me about the most curious habits of the English and helped me to avoid the worst faux pas. There was also another book, which said that only an Englishman could have penned Alice in Wonderland – something to do with the fog. Anyway, although they both made clear the English were eccentric and had a taste for nonsense, they never hinted they were completely bonkers and had unfair laws.

What about this, then: there is a thing called ‘chancel repair liability’, which is beyond understanding. It’s complex stuff but, basically, it means that if you own a property situated on land belonging to the Church of England you are obliged to pay for the upkeep of the chancel of any church or chapel located on that land, whether or not you are a churchgoer. And the church doesn’t even have to be close to the property. Furthermore – and that is pretty scary – there is no financial limit to this liability.

It’s an outdated leftover from the Reformation, but the House of Lords ruled recently that the chancel repair liability remains enforceable and doesn’t contravene human rights. That’s why a couple, who had challenged it, are currently wondering how they will manage to pay the £250,000 that’s being demanded of them by the Church. Initially, they had been asked to pay £6,000 but, you know, with legal costs…

It’s bad enough living in a listed building, where you can’t hammer a nail in a wall without having to fill in forms in triplicate, but this is preposterous. And how does it not contravene human rights: it places buildings above human beings.

Told you you’d find it hard to believe.

Slapping anyone involved in the Reformation (no, it’s never too late) and the Lords, who don’t actually live on the same planet as you and me!


  1. Can you imagine having to fork out so much money to pay for some church repairs? Isn't the Church wealthy enough to cover its own costs? The couple in question need to sell their property in order to pay that debt but no one wants to buy it, of course.

    There are soooo many injustices like that. Paying ground rent to a so-called landlord when you've bought a property that should be yours for ever is another.

  2. I'm late on this one.

    Boy, this is wild! But I did know that there are some strange laws there about taxes and such. I read a blog written by Keith who talked of being taxed for his "view." And on his television set.

    So, in England, you can own the house, but not the ground it sits on?

  3. Yes, TLP, the UK is full of those quaint and quirky laws. All very feudal.

    Yes. It's less common in the case of a house: one usually owns the freehold, but, in London, if you live in a flat, the chances are you've only been granted a leasehold (it's the case in our building). You have to pay ground rent to the freeholder, commonly called 'landlord'. Yep!

  4. In Germany you have to jump through very many bureaucratic hoops to assure the authorities that you do not want to pay extra tax to the church.

  5. In this day and age, it's absolutely incredible!

  6. Genau, one of those things that reminds me how conservative the rest of Germany is.


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