Recently a residential development client of ours acquired some unregistered land near Carlisle. While the land itself didn’t otherwise have any particular quirks, that the freehold land was unregistered was perhaps a quirk in itself given it is relatively rare these days to encounter unregistered land.
How rare? Well, the most recent Land Registry statistics indicate that 98% of the circa 23 million and counting freehold land interests in England and Wales are now registered albeit this equates to something less than 98% of freehold land by area as many of the unregistered interests are large estates and/or farm holdings (that have escaped registration due to being within the same farming family for several generations).
What have been the drivers for the increase in land registration?
- While compulsory first registration of freehold transfers has been required in certain parts of the country since as early as 1926 (the original introduction of the modern system of land registration) it wasn’t until 1990 that the final few districts of England and Wales were brought in to the compulsory registration regime
- An increase in the number of transactions that trigger first registration are such that currently nearly all transactions that result in a change of ownership or a grant of a mortgage require registration e.g. since 1998 an assent now triggers the obligation to register land
- The Land Registry pro-actively encouraging voluntary first registration of land by working directly with large land owners (the Church, Government, etc) and offering reduced fees for voluntary applications
- Land owners recognising the benefit of voluntarily registering their land prior to disposal to a developer or third party so as to provide certainty of title interests
- What we perceive to be an unofficial Land Registry policy of encouraging first registration of very small areas of land (often by incorporation into existing titles) whereby the Land Registry has taken a ‘light touch’ when reviewing the merits of applications.
There are still a few refuseniks. For example, Network Rail is reluctant to voluntarily register its estate, much of which dates back to 19th century conveyances from the height of ‘railway mania’. This in part stems from its policy of refusing to deduce title to its land when acting as landlord in various circumstances. Using Leeds as an example, the city centre is now virtually entirely registered other than swathes of land that, on closer inspection, are the railway station and the various railway lines snaking out from it.
So for the time being property lawyers and their clients can still enjoy the occasional trip back to the world of epitomes of title, conveyances and frantic scrambling around for law school text books to remind ourselves of the differences between c(iv) and d(ii) land charges…
On a related point, the Land Registry has recently launched the final version of its Mapsearch product which makes available its index map (detailing all registered title numbers) online for registered users of the website. It’s a great new resource, no waiting around to receive back index map searches, though one word of caution: to benefit from the Land Registry’s indemnity provisions you still need to submit an index map search in the usual way.
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