A number of Acts were passed in Victorian times to encourage landowners to make available parcels of land for the use by or as schools, libraries, museums, places of worship, scientific institutions and literary institutions, amongst others. Acts such as the School Sites Acts 1841 to 1852, the Places of Worship of Sites Act 1843 and the Literary and Scientific Institutions Act 1854 aimed to achieve this. These are known as the Reverter Acts.

Each of these Acts contained provisions to allow landowners to gift their land for only that period of time during which the land was used for the intended purpose. If it stopped being used for that purpose, if a school closed, for example, then the land would ‘revert’ to the landowner. The gift was therefore conditional on the intended use continuing. If that use stopped, then the original landowner or his or her successors would be entitled to the land being transferred back to them.

Whilst a lot of time has now passed since such gifts were made, there are still instances where claims by successors of the original landowners who made the gifts are made. It is therefore very much worth taking note of the historic use of land, especially when purchasing land. A purchaser would not want to find after the event that he or she had accidentally bought a property fraught with legal issues where compensation may have to be paid to the successors of the original donor.

This field is complex and there have been some relatively recent amendments to the way in which these laws operate. However, if your property or a property you are intending to buy has been used for charitable uses in the past, it is worth at least considering whether the Reverter Acts may apply and obtaining legal advice.