Monday 23 November 2009

Who should care if the Land Registry is privatised?

The government may start a selling spree as it acts to reduce record borrowing, set to hit more than 12 percent of gross domestic product this year. The Land Registry has been earmarked by the Government as part of proposals to sell-off £16 billion of public assets to raise cash.

So does it matter ? I set out below some of the reasons conveyancing solicitors should care as should members of the public.

Conveyancer’s Self Preservation

As a public body the Land Registry has no commercial agenda other than to try and cover its costs. Should the Land Registry fall into private hands there is the possibility of it offering certain services that otherwise would have been carried out by solicitors or licensed conveyancers that traditionally have the closer relationships with buyers and sellers.

Currently, the Land Registry is predominantly focused on dealing with conveyancing lawyers as opposed to members of the public. What happens if that changes? What happens if they choose to charge for online applications that appear particularly targeted towards members of the public (subject, of course, to getting round the security issues)?

Dilution of free and expert advice

Of all the institutions connected with the conveyancing process the Land Registry are the most highly regarded by the legal industry. Other public bodies such as Local Authorities have often let conveyancers down. One only needs to think of delays in obtaining searches from the Inland Revenue in shambles when it came to the introduction of Stamp Duty Land Tax Certificates.

The vast majority of conveyancers have used the Land Registry for advice and guidance. At a time when conveyancing seems to be commoditised with an ever decreasing number of experts , the quality of the legal advice of the Land Registry is consistently strong. There is in fact a steady stream of practice notes and guidance leaflets that are issued by the Land Registry. Ultimately, home buyers and sellers will suffer.

Would this guidance come at a cost if the Land Registry was privatised? Probably.
Because many conveyancers use the Land Registry as a free service to pre-approve documentation even before applications for registration are submitted, privatisation puts this benefit at risk. Free services such as approving complex transfer forms or estate documentation along with Land Registry approval of lease plans or estate plans, would be now come at a high cost.

Compromise on Privacy Issues

While conveyancers and lawyers alike take it for granted that there are no privacy issues with the Land Registry, privatization may call this into question. Presently, the Land Registry Charges Department maintains an index of persons named in Bankruptcy Petitions and Orders, and the Land Registry Insolvency Service and Call Service are closely linked to upgrade the processes. Privatisation may required heightened scrutiny.


Finally, it is worth noting that the Land Registry in certain situations sits in the capacity of an Adjudicator. It runs approximately 80 cases a year, half of which settle shortly before hand. This invaluable service offered by the Land Registry has a significant credibility amongst the industry and consumers. It is doubtful that a privately owned company would be able to offer this service and even if it did, whether or not it would have the same "trust and credibility".

A campaign to Save the Land Registry has been set up and directs visitors as to various ways in which conveyancing solicitors and the public can help. These activities include :

• Offer to help raise publicity
• Writing to MPs
• Write to forums, blogs, web sites and newspapers challenging the automatic assumption that the private sector is good and the public sector is bad
• When talking to business colleagues, suppliers, partners, friends and family let them know the valuable public service the Land Registry provides
• Sign the e-petition at the Number 10 web site

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