On 24th March, the Business Secretary Sajid Javid announced a proposed sell-off of the Land Registry. As well as the benefit of an estimated £1.2 billion coming into public coffers, Mr Javid also declared a belief that privatisation “would also allow the Land Registry to become even more efficient and effective”. However the plans have drawn criticism from lawyers and property industry insiders.
Established in 1862, the Land Registry forms the basis for the property law system that most people now take for granted. Only the Land Registry has the power (granted by law and on behalf of the Crown) to open, close or alter details of this country’s land ownership. However the agency is far more than a mere storage facility for records of property owners. As former chief Land Registrar John Manthorpe points out, the Land Registry’s authority as a secure and constantly maintained index of land ownership enables the cycle of sales, leases, mortgages and transfers which is so important to both the economy and also the ‘end users’, members of the public involved in the particular transactions themselves.
We have been here before, and quite recently too. Plans for Land Registry privatisation were also floated during the term of the last government in 2014. At the time, they were opposed by around 90% of respondents, and concerns remain. The Land Registry’s database would be of great value to third parties and one is entitled to question how a private company, existing to maximise profit for the benefit of shareholders, could resist monetising the records held in its comprehensive archive. It also inconceivable that fees for registration services (which have been reduced dramatically by Land Registry following efficiency drives in recent years) would not increase.
The current consultation on privatisation plans is due to run until 24th May. A petition opposing the plans, launched by campaign group 38 Degrees, has already garnered over 215,000 signatures.
For now, Land Registry fees remain unaffected. However, anyone whose property is currently only recorded by way of unregistered title deeds may want to give consideration to an application for first registration. Land Registry charge reduced fees where one applies to register ownership of their property voluntarily. Such an application would also have the benefit of simplifying and reducing cost on any future transaction of the property. If you have any queries regarding this, or property matters in general, please contact Eoin Murphy at QualitySolicitors Parkinson Wright on 01905 721600.