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Key Differences between Registered and Unregistered Land

16th November 2016

Explained by Licensed Conveyancer Sarah Ryan

Historically, all land in England and Wales was unregistered. Conveyancers would hand write documents transferring property from one owner to the other. These legal documents would form part of the chain of ownership and recite the purchase price, the parties, any conditions or covenants on the land and also all rights. The owner of the land retained a bundle of documents and title deeds to prove their ownership. If there was a mortgage the lender would retain the title deeds. The process became drawn out and risky. If deeds were misplaced or lost it would be difficult to prove you owned the land.

The system was overhauled in 1925 as it was clear there could be significant problems with the continuation of the unregistered system. The traditional system of Conveyancing was overhauled by the introduction of the Law of Property Act 1925 and the Land Registration Act 1925.

Since the 1st of December 1990, all of England and Wales became areas of compulsory registration which means if an unregistered property is sold it must be registered with The Land Registry. The Land Registration Act 2002 broadened the net to include assents, gifts and mortgages as dispositions which trigger a compulsory registration.

The Land Registry contains more than 24 million property titles providing evidence of ownership which covers more than 83% of the UK leaving 17% of land unregistered.

Disadvantages & Risks of Unregistered Land

Some of the key risks dealing with unregistered land are:

  1. If all or part of the title deeds are lost, destroyed or forged it will be difficult to prove ownership. It was reported in the Observer in 1999 deeds to the homes of 60,000 Bradford & Bingley Building Society customers were burnt and destroyed in a fire. If the majority of these deeds were unregistered it would be difficult to prove ownership and obtain good title to enable a sale in the future.
  2. If you want to know who owns a parcel of land it can be impossible to find out if the property is unregistered unless the owner has registered an interest.
  3. It can be a long drawn out process reviewing original title deeds which can involve lengthy hand written documents which can be difficult to read and interpret. If the title is unregistered there can be a delay drafting contracts as the Conveyancer will need to wait for the deeds, check the chain of ownership is correct and then draft contracts.
  4. When a loved one dies it can be emotional dealing with the estate and also arranging to either transfer or sell a property. It can also be difficult to locate the full title deeds if the property hasn’t been sold or re-mortgaged since the date of compulsory registration. To avoid this situation arising it is worthwhile checking if the property is registered with The Land Registry. If it is not registered you should consider obtaining the title deeds and arranging for a voluntary registration now to ensure all paperwork is in order. If part or all of the deeds have been lost or misplaced it will be easier to submit an application for registration with the owner being alive and able to prepare a Statutory Declaration advising of how the deeds became misplaced.
  5. Unregistered land is a higher risk of fraud. Fraudsters can assume your identity and attempt to sell or mortgage your property without your knowledge, see How to Protect Yourself from Property Fraud.
  6. If the property is not registered you should think about submitting an application for voluntary registration. If you decide to apply for a voluntary registration the Land Registry reduce the application fee.

At Co-op Legal Services we can assist with reviewing your title deeds and provide a quotation for helping you to voluntary register, this will help when you come to sell the property in the future and avoid any potential delays.

Advantages & Benefits of Registered Land

Key advantages and benefits of registered land are:

  1. The aims of the registration system is reliability, simplicity and the process to be economic assisting individuals to move quicker into their new home. If the title is registered it is faster and simpler to review the property details online. A copy of the registered title can usually be downloaded from The Land Registry in seconds.
  2. As well as the registered title to the property there will also be a title plan which provides evidence of the extent of the property and also boundaries. It is easier for a buyer to view the boundaries and understand if they believe the extent of the land is the same as the plan. If it is not you should contact your Conveyancer to discuss any discrepancies.
  3. If the title is registered the State guarantees the legal estate is indeed vested in the registered owner. This means there is no need to review old deeds or a chain of ownership. The information contained and provided by the Land Registry is sufficient. If it is proved that the information is subsequently incorrect and an innocent party suffers loss they can make a claim and will usually be compensated for the loss.
  4. All of the information collated by The Land Registry from historic deeds will be contained in three registers which form part of the registered title. Only relevant information to the land will be recited which significantly reduces the amount of information a Conveyancer needs to review.
  5. Once the title is registered you do not need to retain old deeds, all information is held centrally and can be viewed online. This reduces the risk of delay when selling a property as contracts can usually be drafted by the seller’s Conveyancer in a day if the title is registered.

If your property is unregistered you should consider a voluntary registration to ensure the title is in order, and if you come to sell the property in the future you avoid any potential delays.

At Co-op Legal Services we can help review the property title deeds and advise if the title can be registered.

Please contact us online and we will call you.

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