Land Registration and the Land Registry

In our latest article in a series de-mystifying property conveyancing we focus on the Land Registry system and how property and land is registered.

Land registration is  the system of recording centrally who owns what land in England & Wales and who has legal interests in that land.

What is Land Registration?

The modern system was originally created by the Land Registration Act 1925, which has since been repealed by the Land Registration Act 2002. It took much longer to implement than originally anticipated and it wasn’t until 1998 that the last areas were designated as compulsory registration areas. Even then, certain transactions did not have to be registered until the 2002 act came into force in 2003.

The effect is that the definitive answer as to who owns a piece of registered land is not the person that holds the deeds but the person who is registered at land registry as the proprietor.

The Three Principles of Registration

The system of registration is based on three fundamental principles, the mirror principle, the curtain principle and the insurance principle. The mirror principle states that the register of title should reflect the totality of the interests affecting the land, so that anyone purchasing it can see from the register any interests by which he may be bound. The curtain principle states that certain interests, which a purchaser would not be bound by and so would not need to know about, such as certain interests under trusts, should be kept off the register in order to make it clearer. The insurance principle states that a person buying registered land should be entitled to rely on the accuracy of the register and should be indemnified against any loss suffered in the event of an error.

Overriding Interests

Overriding interests are an exception to the three principles mentioned above. They are interests which are capable of binding the land even though they are entered on the register. They include such things as the rights of an occupier or (until 2013) chancel repair liabilities. Any interest which is not overriding, and which is not protected by an entry in the register, cannot bind a purchaser for value.

Is Registration Compulsory?

It is compulsory to register any previously unregistered land though only after a disposition (a sale, gift, mortgage, assent etc). Failure to register within 3 months will mean that the disposition has no legal effect. It is also compulsory to register any disposition of land that is already registered. It is possible to register land at any time voluntarily and the land registry try to encourage this by stating that they may be more lenient towards any title defects which exist where the application is voluntary. The fee for voluntary registration is also lower.

Is Any Unregistered Land Left?

Currently the land registry state that approximately 30% of land in England & Wales is unregistered. This is because compulsory registration is only triggered by a disposition. If the land has not been transferred or mortgaged since registration became compulsory for the particular area then it may remain unregistered until the next disposition.

How Do I Prove I Own Unregistered Land?

You’ll need to hold the title deeds, unless you have a mortgage, in which case they will be held by your lender. You’ll need to show a “good root of title” in order to satisfy the land registry (which you will need to do if you intend to sell). This means you will need to produce deeds showing an unbroken chain of ownership going back at least 15 years and ending with you. If you’ve owned the property for more than 15 years you may just need to produce the deed by which the property was conveyed to you (there are other requirements upon registration however they are outside the scope of this article).

What Can I Do if I Lose My Deeds and the Land is Unregistered?

This can be quite a serious problem. Depending on the area the property is in, you may be able to obtain copies. For example, in West Yorkshire you could visit the West Riding Registry of Deeds. Failing this, if you have owned and occupied the property for 12 years or more you can apply for “possessory title”. You will need to swear a declaration (known as a “statutory declaration”) in the presence of a solicitor stating the facts surrounding your acquisition of the property, the circumstances in which the deeds were lost and confirming the length of time you have occupied the land. Where you are registered with possessory title it is possible for a person with a better claim to the land to take it from you, or for a person to claim a right or interest in the land. Once you have been registered with possessory title for 12 years you can apply to upgrade to absolute title, which cannot be defeated.

It is possible to sell land with possessory title and indemnity insurance can usually be obtained though some buyers and mortgage lenders may be put off.

How Do I Prove Ownership of Registered Land?

Simply apply to the land registry, either in writing using for OC1 or by telephone, for a copy of the register for the property. The register is open to public inspection and so you do not have to have any interest in the land to apply for a copy of the register. It will state the name of the registered proprietor.

Who is the Land Registry?

Land RegistryThe Land Registry, formerly Her Majesty’s Land Registry, is the government department responsible for creating and maintaining a register of all land in England & Wales. They deal with applications for registration, the provision of information about the register and registration (including the production of practice guides) and land disputes (through the Adjudicator). Their work is governed by the Land Registration Act 2002 and the Land Registration Rules 2003.

The Land Registry is split into a number of regional offices known as District Land Registries. If you want to find out which office deals with your property, see regional land registry office information.

If My Property is Registered Do I Still Need My Deeds?

You don’t need to produce deeds to prove ownership of registered land and you may find that when you but a property you don’t receive any. If you do receive some deeds however you should keep them safe. They can occasionally be useful for things like settling boundary disputes, or where the land registry have failed to keep a complete copy of a document which contains rights or covenants.

What is the Land Registry’s Register?

When a piece of land is registered for the first time it will be given a unique identifier, called a “title number” which it will then keep for all time. If a piece of land is split into smaller pieces (for example where a builder sells off individual houses after he has built an estate) each smaller piece will be given its own title number.

For each title number there will be a register, split into 3 parts, the Property Register, the Proprietorship Register and the Charges Register. The Property Register contains a description of the land (for example the property address, or “land adjacent to Mill Lane”), states whether it is freehold, leasehold or commonhold and contains details of any easements and rights which benefit the land. The description will refer to the “filed plan”. Each title number will have its own plan which shows the general boundaries of the land (note that the plan cannot be assumed to be exact).

The Proprietorship Register gives the class of title (possessory, absolute, good leasehold etc), gives the names of the owners (the registered proprietors) and the date they were registered, the price paid the last time the property was transferred (though this is a relatively recent development and no price will be given where the land has not been transferred for a number of years) and contains any restrictions which are registered against the title, for example where the property is mortgaged there will usually be a restriction preventing the property from being sold without the consent of the lender or if the property is flat there might be a restriction requiring a certificate from the management company that the assignment provisions in the lease have been complied with.

The Charges Register contains any rights that others have over the property and any covenants to which it is subject. It also contains any other registrable interests that others have in the property. This included mortgages (registered charges), home rights notices, notices to protect charging orders etc.

The register is in electronic format and for a small administration fee anyone may obtain a printed (or electronic) copy of the register for a particular title number. This copy is called an “Official Copy” and is admissible in evidence of the contents of the register to the same extent as the original. Note that it also possible to obtain a copy called a “Register View”. This is not and Official Copy and the Land Registry guarantee its accuracy.

How Do I Register a Change of Ownership?

Normally you would have solicitor to do this for you, however you would complete land registry form AP1 (for registered land) or FR1 (for unregistered land) and send this to the land registry together with any supporting documents such as the transfer deed, a mortgage deed, an SDLT5 certificate etc and the relevant fee. Fees are charged on a scale depending on the purchase price. A receipt of an application the land registry will firstly freeze the register so that no changes can be made until your application is either completed or rejected. If they are happy with the application they will amend the register and send you an Official Copy by way of confirmation. Alternatively they may raise one or more “requisitions”. For example they may ask you to clarify something which is unclear or supply a document which appears to be missing. If the application is “substantially defective”, perhaps because you are applying to register a transfer but don’t include the transfer deed, they will reject it and will return it to you. You will then need to correct and re-submit the application.

What if there is an Error on the Register?

As mentioned above, you are indemnified against any mistakes on the register. This means that if, as a result of an error made on the register by land registry, you have suffered a loss, and you should be entitled to be compensated.

If the error is minor, a misspelled name or address for example, you can apply to the land registry to rectify it. They may or may not need documentary evidence, for example a passport in respect of a misspelled name. If there is an error which has resulted from a mistake on the application for registration you should contact the solicitor which acted for you and ask him to address it. It may be that an additional fee will need to be paid.

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