Joanne Anderton

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Samantha East

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On the way to comprehensive registration?

Property / 10 July 2019

HM Land Registry (HMLR) is responsible for registering ownership of land and property in England and Wales.  It was established in 1862 and is proud of its long history of recording property ownership in the centrally-held Land Register.  HMLR plays a crucial part in the UK’s national infrastructure, underpinning and underwriting land ownership worth trillions of pounds.

Until 1925, registration of land ownership was entirely voluntary, after which it started to become compulsory for sales of unregistered land in certain locations to ‘trigger’ registration.  However, it wasn’t until 1990 that the whole of England and Wales became subject to compulsory registration whenever unregistered land was sold.  Since then, HMLR has gradually increased the list of actions which will trigger compulsory registration, for example: granting a mortgage; transferring land as a gift; placing property in trust; or assenting property to a beneficiary following the death of the legal owner.

Nevertheless, even now, unless a certain type of transaction occurs, landowners cannot be forced to register their land.  Consequently, the Land Register is not complete and still has significant gaps.  In May 2019 the Register contained over 25 million registered titles, which represents more than 86% of the land mass of England and Wales.  That means 14% is still unregistered, and HMLR is therefore keen to talk to those whose land ownership remains off the register and to encourage them to consider registering their land voluntarily.  The benefits of doing this are:

  1. Definitive proof of ownership and a state-backed guarantee of title.
  2. Clarification of boundaries.
  3. Registration makes it easier and quicker to deal with the land in future.
  4. First registration can be a complicated process, particularly if deeds are missing or contain old, ill-defined plans. Delaying registration until you have a transaction or series of transactions that requires it may delay things at a time-critical moment.
  5. It helps to protect against fraud.
  6. A reduced registration fee is payable (only 75% of the compulsory fee).

Since 2005, HMLR has worked successfully with many large landowners to register their portfolios, for example the Crown Estate, National Trust and Church Commissioners.

HMLR’s current target for encouraging voluntary registration is the public sector – which accounts for the majority of remaining unregistered land, together with much of the national road and rail network.  To this end, it has recently published a list of over 17,500 parcels of unregistered public land including allotments, schools, substations, public toilets, playing fields and the like, in an attempt to help local authorities establish what they actually own and to encourage them to work with HMLR to achieve registration.

Some privately-owned family homes have not been registered simply because they have not been sold or mortgaged since registration became compulsory, but HMLR is confident that most of these will come onto the Land Register ‘naturally’ in the next ten years because of a trigger event occurring.   However, some private landowners deliberately wish to avoid registering their property because they do not want their ownership information to be made public.  Moreover, they hold their land in a way that means it is unlikely to change hands or otherwise trigger a registration – for instance a long-established charitable or family trust.  This is of course an owner’s prerogative, but in this age of public openness and transparency, we suggest it is only going to become harder for landowners to keep their ownership details secret.

HMLR aims to achieve comprehensive registration across England and Wales by 2030.  With just 14% to go, and the willing participation of those who have yet to register their land, HMLR hopes it is on target.

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