Voluntary registration of land at the Land Registry

30th May 2023

One of the first questions your solicitor may ask you when instructed on a matter involving a disposal of land is whether the land is registered or unregistered. If the latter, you may hear a deep breath on the phone or receive an email explaining why costs are perhaps going to be higher than first envisaged, but why?

The Land Registry introduced in the 1990s a system where land would be compulsorily registrable. Each time disposals of a certain nature occurred, such as a transfer or lease of over seven years, an application would need to be made to the Land Registry to register the transferee or tenant’s interest.

The land in question would then be given a unique freehold or leasehold title number, a register would be created identifying the owner of the interest, whether the land benefitted from or was burdened by any rights, had the benefit of or was subject to any covenants and if there was anything restricting further disposals, such as the need to obtain a third party’s consent.

A title plan would also be created showing the extent of the land edged red and the degree to which certain rights or covenants impacted the whole or part of the land.

Fast-forward thirty years and 90% of land across England and Wales is now registered. It is therefore likely that on a disposal of land, for example, on conversion into a MAT or transferring between MATs, the land in question is registered. What if it is unregistered, however, which may be particularly relevant for foundation, VA and VC Schools?

Where land remains unregistered, title will need to be deduced to the MAT taking on the land and this will take the form of evidencing ownership of the land. Often school land was gifted a long time ago and the deed in question may be fragile, incomplete, illegible or even lost.

Transfers of a broader estate may have occurred over time meaning that a review of those transfers may be required in order to identify what remains. In addition, any deed which granted or reserved a right or contained covenants benefitting or burdening the land will need to be reviewed. This is a time consuming process hence the aforementioned reaction you may encounter from your solicitor and inevitably there are cost implications.

So what can you do to avoid this?

The Land Registry encourages voluntary registrations. What this means is you do not have to wait for a transaction to arise triggering compulsory registration. You can submit an application to have your land registered. The benefits of this are numerous:

  1. The Land Registry provide a guarantee of ownership meaning you have protection against third parties seeking to claim ownership of the land;
  2. Your land is more appealing to buyers as ownership is established and you avoid having to decipher often lengthy and illegible historic deeds;
  3. If any property deeds are lost or destroyed following registration, your ownership of the property can still be proven; and
  4. The application fee for voluntary registrations is discounted compared to compulsory registrations.

So, what are you waiting for? Get in touch with a member of our Commercial Real Estate team who will be happy to help.

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