There are two systems of recording ownership of land in England and Wales; registered and unregistered. Whether your land is registered or unregistered can have a major impact, and not only when you come to sell.
The Land Registry keeps a register of all registered land, which is indexed on a map. This register contains information on approximately 24 million properties.
Within this overall register, the Land Registry allocates properties their own unique number and individual register. Each individual register includes three sections:
A property’s individual register may also show other information, such as whether there are any rights of way or restrictive covenants which affect the property.
The information recorded in the three sections of the register is commonly referred to as ‘title information’.
For a small fee, the Land Registry will supply an official copy of the register for any property that is registered with them. Anybody, including a prospective buyer or lender, can request an official copy of the register, which makes it very easy for them to check the ownership of any registered land they might be interested in.
A search of the Land Registry’s index map will reveal whether land is registered or unregistered. If land is unregistered, in the absence of personal knowledge, it can be hard to find out who owns it. There are no central records of ownership to search.
Proof of ownership, or title, depends on being able to show a chain of ownership through deeds and other documents. This is called the ‘root of title’. A good root of title will be at least 15 years old and will usually include the conveyance to the current owner and to their predecessors. However, if there have been no recent sales, you may have to go back a lot longer than 15 years.
If you own unregistered land, it is very important to keep all the original deeds safe. The conveyancer acting for any prospective buyer or lender will need to examine them carefully to check your title and any other matters that may affect the property.
Since 1990 it has been compulsory when buying unregistered land to apply to have the land registered within two months of a sale completing. Other transactions which result in a change of ownership and trigger a requirement to register include gifts of land or assents by personal representatives.
With some land in England and Wales having not changed hands for decades, there is still about 15 per cent of land that remains unregistered, with the highest proportion concentrated in rural areas and districts which were among the last to introduce an obligation to register unregistered land prior to it becoming compulsory nationwide. Land owned by some companies, local authorities and trusts may also remain unregistered.
Registered land has many advantages over its unregistered counterpart, including:
If you own unregistered land, you should consider voluntarily applying for registration. Why not discuss this with your solicitor?
The process is relatively straightforward. Although the Land Registry’s fees are based on the value of your property, they are modest, and there is no need for a professional valuation. There is also a 25 per cent reduction for voluntary first registrations. Registering your property now could save you time and expense in the long run and pre-empt issues in the future.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.