CONCERNED villagers have learnt they could be made financially responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of their church.

Homeowners in Felixkirk, near Thirsk, were told if their properties were on former monastic land, they would be required to pay Chancel Repair Liability under a law dating back to Tudor times.

Chancel Repair Liability applies to more than 16,000 Anglican churches in England and Wales founded in medieval times, and the responsibility of funding repairs falls on the current owners of former church land, which can still be invoked in some parishes although in the majority it is no longer in use.

The issue was brought to public attention in 2003 when Andrew and Gail Wallbank received a demand for almost 100,000 to fund repairs of their local church, near Stratford-upon-Avon.

After a legal battle, a decision was made in the parochial church council's (PCC) favour and the couple were left with a 350,000 bill including legal costs.

Mike and Terry Shipley received a letter from Felixkirk PCC and were told their house fell within the boundary and at some point in the future they could be forced to pay towards the upkeep of St Felixs Church.

Mr Shipley said: "It is a problem because there is no action we can take.

"The churchwarden showed me an 1860s map of the area and our property is in the boundary of church lands it is a legal document so we do not have a leg to stand on."

Mr and Mrs Shipley have written to local MP Anne McIntosh; Peter Luff MP Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire who has been campaigning in the House of Commons for the law to be changed, and the York Diocese.

Mr Shipley added: "The church is in very good condition so it will probably never happen in my lifetime but that's not the point.

"Whoever owns the land has the responsibility it has devalued the land because who will want to buy it now?

"I think it's disgusting. The Government is the only body that can change the law but so far it has not shown much of an interest."

The Venerable Paul Ferguson, Archdeacon of Cleveland and Warden of Readers for the Diocese of York, said: "Local church councils are now in a difficult position.

"They cannot legally let the right to claim that help lapse, because they are automatically trustees of the local church, and the right is an asset that belongs to the trust.

"Sometimes the owners are now private householders, and some are understandably unhappy to be told they hold liability.

"Felixkirk church council has followed official guidance by checking which properties are involved.

"At some future stage when repairs are actually done, the church council will need to decide whether it is going to put its right to collect contributions into effect.

"Some church councils have decided not to take the matter of Chancel Repair Liability any further, but as the law stands, church councils do not have blanket permission to let it go.

"I would encourage people who are affected directly in particular to contact their MP."