Recent coverage of Westminster’s housing minister Chris Pincher’s apparent endorsement of more widespread use of the UPRN in the conveyancing process has highlighted the question of whether another way is needed to tackle the identification of property in transactions. If so, it could provide a way of collating more extensive information in relation to a property and a ‘one stop shop’ for relevant data to be stored.
What is a UPRN?
UPRN stands for Unique Property Reference Number and was created by the Ordnance Survey (OS) more than two decades ago. It consists of numbers of up to 12 digits in length.
Local government across in the UK has allocated a unique number for each parcel of land or property. Every local authority in the UK has a statutory obligation to manage and maintain their address register. That means every unit of land and property is allocated a UPRN with geographic coordinates, ensuring there is one true record for each address. Each local authority submits their address register (including the UPRN) to GeoPlace – the organisation that oversees the production and maintenance of the national address and street gazetteers.
On 2 April 2020, the government announced that the UPRN would be released under Open Government Licence. Additionally, the Open Standards Board, via Government Digital Service (GDS), has mandated that from 1 July 2020, the UPRN is the public sector standard for referencing and sharing property and street information.
What is the difference between the UPRN and a Land Registry title number?
Property ownership in England and Wales has (over time) moved from paper-based legal deeds to the digital register held by HM Land Registry.
Any legal title to land that has changed ownership has to be registered at HM Land Registry and, if not already registered, provided with a title number.
Whilst there are still areas of England and Wales that remain unregistered and therefore without a title number, the vast majority of property (certainly residential property, if not bare land) is now registered under this system.
Conveyancers and property professionals using HM Land Registry’s map-search facility can quickly ascertain whether a particular property or area of land is registered and if so, its title number.
The title register will provide all details of this land in terms of its ownership and any restrictions, charges (mortgages) and any rights over the property reserved for the benefit of the neighbouring properties. This information is the fundamental part of reviewing title in the conveyancing process, alongside information provided by search providers who will give information about the land in terms of utilities at the property, and the local authority search, which will provide information on planning consents and proposed changes to the local area.
The UPRN has many functions that have nothing to do with tracking property ownership and it is without doubt a useful tool for analysis as demonstrated on GeoPlace’s website. For example, the data is being used for emergency response by the emergency services; by HM Revenue and Customs to collect taxes; by the Department of Work and Pensions to pay benefits; and by the Environment Agency to produce flood plans.
References to the data’s value as highlighted above and further, a survey commissioned by the Welsh government in 2018 to identify unadopted roads in Wales, put the UPRN data to very effective use.
Will UPRN’s reinvent the wheel in conveyancing practice?
In a world where it is now the norm for data to be monetised, it is not surprising that we, as property solicitors are being encouraged to ‘bake in’ UPRNs in the conveyancing procedure. But there is a stark difference between the usefulness of the UPRN in terms of tracking as already used, to replacing the conveyancing procedures using title numbers and the information stored at HM Land Registry.
There is a place for UPRNs and their increased use – but to suggest that the data they provide and collate will help to speed up the conveyancing process is not entirely helpful or accurate.
Invest in the existing infrastructure, improve the services provided by HM Land Registry with more training and manpower so that they can service the needs of the property professionals efficiently and in a timely fashion and this will speed up the conveyancing process far more than data sharing and data monetising ever could.