by Helen Lisney, Legal Assistant
Historically, all land in England and Wales was unregistered. Land was transferred by way of written documents which would need to be kept to prove ownership of land.
Since 1990, it has been compulsory to register land on any disposition. This means since this date, any property where ownership is transferred is now registered at the Land Registry on a central register.
Currently over 85 % of land in England and Wales is registered.
There are many benefits to ensuring that land in your ownership is registered. A number of these are set out below:
1. If land is not registered, then the only evidence of ownership is likely to be a bundle of old deeds and documents. In the event that the deeds were lost or destroyed it would be very difficult to prove ownership and obtain good title to the land. If land is registered at the land registry details of ownership are stored centrally. They can be obtained electronically from the Land Registry in a matter of seconds.
2. If you wish to transfer unregistered land it can be a long and drawn out process in reviewing the old title deeds (often these are handwritten and are very difficult to decipher). This can cause a delay in preparing any transfer documents, and the purchaser will also have to review the documentation, incurring additional costs for both parties. If land is registered, a title register and plan will be prepared. The title register contains all the relevant details of ownership, and any mortgage, together with any relevant information contained in the original deeds and documents such as covenants affecting the use of the land. The title plan shows the extent of the land contained in the title, are created and these contain all of the relevant ownership details. This will significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to review the title and reduce the costs involved with any conveyancing transaction.
3. Often in old title deeds, the plans bear very little resemblance to the land as it is now. E.g in the case of the District Council prior to registration we held deeds for a large number of properties that when purchased, were open fields/waste ground, which we subsequently built a large number of properties on. The title plans prepared by the Land Registry are based on larger scale Ordnance Survey maps. These can reflect the position on the ground far more accurately than the historic plans.
4. Once your title to the land is registered there is no need to retain the old deeds. All of the information is contained in the register and title plan and can be easily viewed online.
In view of the risks attached we strongly advise that any owner of unregistered land consider a voluntary registration of their title. This is particularly beneficial for public bodies such as Parish Councils, Local Authorities and Further Education Colleges. This will ensure that the title is in order and will avoid any potential difficulties should you wish to dispose of, grant a lease of, or even apply for some grant funding in relation to the use of the land.