Consultation on the Privitisation of the Land Registry
The Land Registry has been in existence for over 150 years and holds a pivotal role in recording the ownership of, and interests in, land and property in England and Wales. Its registers cover more than 24 million titles worth over £4 trillion.
In the 2016 Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the Government will consult on options to privatise the operations of the Land Registry. The Consultation Document was launched on March 24, seeking views on different models for the privatisation of the body.
According to the Consultation Document, the Government’s logic for change is whether or not there is a strong case for continued public ownership of the Land Registry, with the main driver being to release resources that can be used elsewhere for the public benefit. Those opposing privatisation are looking at the Land Registry from a different perspective – “if it aint broke, don’t fix it”
According to the various privatisation proposals in the Consultation Document, the Government will retain a degree of responsibility and oversight of the Land Registry. Notably:-
- Ownership of the Land Registry’s registers will remain with the Government.
- A state-backed guarantee regarding the information held on the registers will remain in place.
- Land Registry fees to access its registers will continue to be set by Parliament.
Under the Government’s preferred option, all of the core functions carried out by the Land Registry will be transferred out of the public sector. In effect, this would transfer the economic benefits and risks of ownership to the private operator.
The Government’s proposals have attracted criticism. It has been questioned as to whether privatisation would undermine public confidence in a body that is responsible for maintaining key data. According to the former Chief Land Registrar, an “impartial and trusted system of land registration”, which is independent from commercial interests, is necessary for the “daily movement of interests in land, between citizens, business, public bodies and financial institutions”.
The view of this commentator is that, while of course there is scope for improvement in the Land Registry, the fundamentals behind the Government’s proposals are misguided. The main driver, to transfer the Land Registry into the private sector in order to release resources that can be used elsewhere, is wrong. The focus should be on whether the services provided by Land Registry, which oversees one of the most valuable and active property markets in the world, will improve under public or private management.
Responses to the consultation are due later this month and we will post a further report on the consultation after these are published.