HM Land Registry

HM Land Registry

Land Registry (officially known under the Land Registration Act 2002 as Her Majesty's Land Registry) is a British Governmental organisation created in 1862. Land Registry is responsible for publicly recording interests in registered land in England and Wales and reports to the Ministry of Justice. It is now an executive agency.

The equivalent office in Scotland is the "Registers of Scotland".


Like land registration organisations worldwide, Land Registry guarantees title to registered estates and interests in land. Land Registry records the ownership rights of freehold properties, and leasehold properties where the lease has been granted for a term exceeding seven years.

The definition of land can include the buildings situated upon the land, particularly where parts of buildings at different levels (such as flats) are in different ownership. It is also possible to register the ownership of the mines and minerals which lie within the ground as well as airspace above property where this is in separate ownership.

The Registry receives no government funding, being required to ensure that its income covers expenditure, and finances itself from registration and search fees. The Registry provides online access to its database of "titles" (ownership and "charges" or interests by other parties) and most "plans" (maps).

Land Registry is currently encouraging property owners whose property is currently not registered to make a voluntary application for registration. Although there are over 20,000,000 registered properties in England and Wales, only just over half of the land mass is registered. Much of this land is rural property in the hands of large institutional landowners such as the Church, educational institutions and the Crown. Registration of land under the Land Registration Act 2002 affords property owners some protection against squatters as well as avoiding the need to produce old documents each time a property changes hands.


There are 24 Land Registry offices spread throughout England and Wales which are responsible for the registration of land transactions as well as the Head Office at Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, Information Systems in [Plymouth] and the Land Charges department attached to the local Plymouth office. The 24 Offices, each responsible for a distinct geographic area, are at Birkenhead (Old Market), Birkenhead (Rosebrae), Coventry, Croydon, Durham (Boldon), Durham (Southfield), Gloucester, Harrow, Kingston upon Hull, Leicester, Lytham St Anne's, Lancashire Office (also based at Lytham St Anne's), Nottingham East, Nottingham West, Peterborough, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Stevenage, Swansea (covering all of Wales), Telford,Tunbridge Wells, Weymouth and York.

In 2006, as a result of a review of office accommodation, Land Registry announced the closure of several offices. In each of the five towns or cities where there are two offices at present, those offices will merge. The Harrow Office is held under a lease that expires in 2010, and the York Office in 2015, and these leases will not be renewed. All affected staff are being encouraged to transfer to an alternative office.

Each local office has an Area Manager responsible for the day to day running of the office, a Land Registrar (being the senior lawyer at the office) and a Customer Service Manager. Each office also has a team of staff responsible for processing applications lodged by members of the legal profession and the general public.

The organisation is headed by the Chief Land Registrar and Chief Executive. With the largest property database in Europe, today's Land Registry underpins the economy of the United Kingdom by guaranteeing ownership of many billions of pounds worth of property. Around £1 million worth of property is processed every minute in England and Wales [ Land Registry website: 10 Year Plan, April 2007 ] .

Since December 1990, the Land Register has been open to the public and for a fee anyone can inspect the register, find out the name and address of the current owner of any registered property or obtain a copy of any registered title. This can be done on-line.

In 2004, Land Registry was awarded the government's prestigious Charter Mark for a record fifth time, only one of a handful of organisations to achieve this.

Land Registry has an Independent Complaints Reviewer.

Disputed applications to Land Registry are determined by the Adjudicator to HM Land Registry, an independent office created by the Land Registration Act 2002. (Under previous Land Registration legislation, this function was the responsibility of the Chief Land Registrar).

Land Registry has a recognised course on land registration law and its underpinning property law - "Qualification in Land Registration Law and Practice". It also covers Land Registry legal and plans practice. There are two levels: a one year Certificate course at A level standard and a two-year Diploma course at degree standard.


In 1857, the Royal Commission on Registration of Title proposed a system of registration based around a central registry in London with district offices. The Land Registration Act 1862 was brought onto the statute books by the then Lord Chancellor, Richard Bethell, 1st Baron Westbury. The Act provided for the registration of Freehold estates in land. The system of registration adopted had its origins in a system that had been piloted in South Australia by that colony's then prime minister Sir Robert Torrens. Brent Spencer Follett, the first Chief Land Registrar, opened the Land Registry's first offices at 34 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London on 15 October 1862. Mr Follett had a staff of just six people and was paid the enormous sum of £2,500 per annum.

Flaws in the 1862 Act led to its downfall. Registration was not compulsory, and once property was registered there was no compulsion to register any subsequent transactions. Thus is was possible that the person registered as owner of the property was no longer the owner of that property. The prospect of compulsion to register brought much opposition from the legal profession. Following the Land Transfer Act 1875 there were seven further attempts to introduce land registration acts all of which failed.

With the Land Registry seemingly on the brink of collapse, Sir Charles Brickdale was appointed to the Land Registry and brought improvements. His report of the system of land registration used in Germany proved influential. In 1897, the then Lord Chancellor, Hardinge Giffard, 1st Earl of Halsbury successfully brought the Land Transfer Act 1897 onto the statute books. This Act brought an element of compulsion into the registration system. To satisfy the demands of the legal profession, the option of a county veto was offered.

The London County Council were attracted to the idea of compulsory registration and voted to accept this in 1899. This led the Land Registry to expand. At this time the first female staff were employed and new technology, in the form of typewriters, was introduced. At this time London was suffering from a severe outbreak of smallpox. The Land Registry was so keen that this outbreak should not affect its own staff and thus the ability to remain an effective government organisation that all the registry's staff were vaccinated.

Despite the advance of compulsory registration there were still problems and a decision was made not to increase the areas liable to compulsory registration until after 1911.

In 1913, a new Land Registry headquarters at Lincoln's Inn Fields was completed.

1925 saw two new pieces of land legislation: The Law of Property Act, and The Land Registration Act. The government gave non-registration the chance to prove itself by barring government initiated extensions to compulsory registration for 10 years. This, however, did not stop Eastbourne and Hastings voluntarily becoming areas of compulsory registration. In 1925 the government foresaw that the whole of England and Wales would be subject to compulsory registration by 1955. In fact, the process was to take much longer than that.

In 1940, after the 193rd air raid on central London, the Land Registry was evacuated to the Marsham Court Hotel so that it could carry on its normal business and in 1950, 88 years after its creation, the Land Registry registered its one millionth title. Even this milestone did not affect the hurdles registration would face. In 1951, a public enquiry was held in Surrey over whether the area would be subject to compulsory registration.

The growth in property ownership after the war years meant that the potential number of properties to be registered increased dramatically. This in turn slowed down the rate of land registration. To deal with the increasing workload, an office was opened in Tunbridge Wells in 1955 and a further office at Lytham St. Annes in 1957. In 1963, 101 years after the registry started, it registered its two millionth title.

At this, Theodore Ruoff was appointed Chief Land Registrar. He is attributed for laying down the three fundamental principles of Land Registration:

* The mirror principle — proposing that the register of title reflects accurately and completely beyond all argument the facts that are material to the title
* The Curtain principle — the register is the sole and definitive source of information for proposing purchasers
* The Insurance principle — whereby if as a result of human error the title is proven to be defective in any way then the person or persons suffering loss as a result must be able to claim compensation

By this time land registration was a growing business and new offices were opened in Gloucester (1964), Stevenage (1964), Durham (1965) and Harrow (1965).

Land Registers at this time were not public records and work processing was long and hard. Registers were typed and plans completed by hand using paintbrushes and ink. Copies of everything produced had to be made by hand. The Land Registry retained the originals, and the copies were sewn, using needle and thread, into large certificates. The certificates were produced as indisputable evidence of the ownership of the land. Such was the importance of the certificates produced that tampering with them was a criminal offence.

1986 brought new technology to the Land Registry and the Plymouth Office was the first Land Registry Office to produce Land Registers electronically. Although the certificates still bore the same importance, computerisation dramatically increased the efficiency of the Land Register at a time when it was keen to bring the whole of England and Wales under compulsory registration.

In 1990, the provision of compulsory registration was brought to the whole of England and Wales, its 10 millionth title was registered, and for the first time, the Land Register was opened to public inspection.

2005 saw the official opening of the new home of Information Systems, a state of the art IT office home to 500 staff.

Although compulsory registration had now spread to the whole of its jurisdiction, compulsion only occurred when a property was sold. This was a serious bar to the registration of the whole of England and Wales and in 1998 new triggers for registration were introduced, dramatically increasing the rate of registration of land. These triggers included gifts of land, assent of land on death and raising monies by mortgages on the land.

The Land Registration Act 2002 leaves the 1925 system substantially in place but enables the future compulsory introduction of electronic conveyancing using electronic signatures to transfer and register property.

Although currently only just over half of the landmass of England and Wales is registered, Land Registry's aim is that all marketable property will be registered by 2012.

ee also

* Rural Land Register
* National Land & Property Gazetteer
* Torrens system


External links

* [ Land Registry website]
* [ Registers of Scotland website]

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