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Does the Church own mineral rights beneath your home?

A recent report in the Daily Telegraph about the Church of England registering ownership of mineral rights in peoples’ properties seems to have stirred up quite a lot of comments.

It is reported that many property owners are receiving notices from the Land Registry to say the Church Commissioners are claiming that they own the mineral rights in the property. Conveyancing Solicitors confirm that clients across the country have received letters informing them that an application has been made for registration of a notice on their property titles that the mineral rights are separately owned by the Church.

What is behind this?

It seems that the Church Commissioners (a body responsible for administering land and other assets owned by the Church of England) have decided that they now need to assert ownership of their mineral rights following a change in the law. They are not trying to claim ownership of something that doesn’t belong to them, they are merely ensuring that what they do own is properly registered.

When the land registration system was set up it was recognised that certain property rights could not always be identified from the old title deeds. Among these were various rights which might still be owned by lords of the manor, including ownership of mineral rights.  

The original land registration system therefore provided that registered titles were to take effect subject to various third-party rights, known as overriding interests, even if these were not set out in an owner’s title. A buyer would be affected by them even if he didn’t know about them.

As the idea of title registration was that buyers would be able to see exactly what affected a property title, it has long been considered that the concept of unidentified overriding interests was unsatisfactory. Therefore the law was changed and owners of certain property rights now have until the 12 October 2013 to apply for registration of them, otherwise they may be lost.

It seems that the Church Commissioners have decided to ensure that they do not lose any rights they might still be entitled to, and are therefore taking steps to apply for registration of these rights. Other landowners will also be taking similar action, especially corporate bodies such as charities or the old university colleges, who often own manorial lordships as part of their endowments.

What should I do if I receive a notice?

Property owners will often have no idea that anyone else might own any minerals in their land, so receiving a formal notice from the land registry will come as a shock. Anyone receiving such a notice should contact their Conveyancing Solicitor who will be able to give them further advice. Steps can be taken to dispute claims.

Will registration have any effect on my home?

It is unlikely that the registration of a note on the title register relating to the ownership of minerals will have any effect on the value or saleability of a dwelling. All such a note will do is formally recognise rights which already existed.

Nor should homeowners worry about someone suddenly turning up and digging a hole under their property. In most parts of the country there are few minerals worth mining, while coal and oil are nationalised.  

Homeowners may find that their titles already include a note that mines and minerals were specifically retained by an earlier deed. If there is a note to the effect that the land was ‘formerly copyhold of the Manor of XXXX’ then minerals could still belong to the lord of the manor, but in such cases the land registry doesn’t consider it necessary to register any further note about their ownership.  

Owners can ask the owner of the mineral rights if they would be willing to sell them, so that they re-attach to the ownership of the surface. There is no reason why this should not be done, but owners would need to consider whether it is worth the expense.  


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