Gorleston residents angry over church repair liability
Nearly 1,000 residents in Norfolk have received an official letter telling them they could be responsible for the upkeep of their local church.
The Land Registry sent the letters after St Andrew's Church in Gorleston registered properties liable for chancel repairs.
This duty on households to maintain the local church dates back centuries.
The parish council said it had a duty to uphold the right of liability but objectors could buy exemption for £50.
The Land Registry said that under new rules for transparency it was obliged to inform the people who could be responsible for payments.
The most recent repair to the chancel cost £200,000 and was paid for by parishioners.
The clause upholding the rights of mediaeval churches to claim money for repairs from households built on land that it once owned was confirmed in a new Land Registry Act passed in 2002.
Churches that wanted to uphold the right to claim money were given until 13 October this year to register any liable properties.
Michael Lilly, who married wife Avril at St Andrew's 41 years ago, said: "When I first read the letter I was shocked but then it turned to anger as I thought the church was putting the wind up people."
His wife Avril said she thought it was a form of "blackmail" demanding money from people.
"That's what made us both angry," she said.
Rev Steve Bradford from the church said he could not see an occasion when the money would be demanded but could not guarantee that it would never happen.
"It would go against the pastoral care of the people," he said.
"We have therefore introduced a scheme that for £50 people can be exempt from the liability.
"The exemption goes with the property and is better than an insurance which would probably demand a premium payment every year."
He said the clause would be obvious when properties were bought and sold.
"I want to assure people that the charge is not imminent, it is a remote possibility and there is a way out," he said.
"In these austerity times, we are also looking for ways to exempt people who may not be able to afford the certificate."