Registered and unregistered land, what’s the difference?

There are two systems of recording ownership of land in England and Wales; registered and unregistered. Whether your land is registered or unregistered can have a major impact, and not only when you come to sell. Jane Bohill, residential property expert at Warners Solicitors in Kent, considers the implications.

Registered land, an overview

The Land Registry keeps a register of all registered land, which is indexed on a map. This register contains information on approximately 24 million properties.

Within this overall register, the Land Registry allocates properties their own unique number and individual register.  Each individual register includes three sections:

  • The ‘proprietor register’, which contains ownership information
  • The ‘property register’, which contains a description of the property, linked to a map
  • The ‘charges register’, which contains details of any mortgages or charges affecting the property

A property’s individual register may also show other information, such as whether there are any rights of way or restrictive covenants which affect the property.

The information recorded in the three sections of the register is commonly referred to as ‘title information’. For a small fee, the Land Registry will supply an official copy of the register for any property that is registered with them.  Anybody, including a prospective buyer or lender, can request an official copy of the register, which makes it very easy for them to check the ownership of any registered land they might be interested in.

Unregistered land, an overview

A search of the Land Registry’s index map will reveal whether land is registered or unregistered.  If land is unregistered, in the absence of personal knowledge, it can be hard to find out who owns it.  There are no central records of ownership to search.

Proof of ownership, or title, depends on being able to show a chain of ownership through deeds and other documents.  This is called the ‘root of title’.  A good root of title will be at least 15 years old and will usually include the conveyance to the current owner and to their predecessors.  However, if there have been no recent sales, you may have to go back a lot longer than 15 years.

If you own unregistered land, it is very important to keep all the original deeds safe. The conveyancer acting for any prospective buyer or lender will need to examine them carefully to check your title and any other matters that may affect the property.

Two systems working in parallel

Since 1990 it has been compulsory when buying unregistered land to apply to have the land registered within two months of a sale completing.

Other transactions which result in a change of ownership and trigger a requirement to register include gifts of land or assets by personal representatives. With some land in England and Wales having not changed hands for decades, there is still about 15 per cent of land that remains unregistered, with the highest proportion concentrated in rural areas and districts which were among the last to introduce an obligation to register unregistered land prior to it becoming compulsory nationwide.  Land owned by some companies, local authorities and trusts may also remain unregistered.

The advantages of registered land

Registered land has many advantages over its unregistered counterpart, including:

  • Ownership, and matters affecting the title, are clearer and more certain. The Land Registry provides a state guarantee of title and may pay compensation if there is a mistake in the register
  • Conveyancing registered land is usually quicker and more straightforward
  • Increasingly, buyers expect land to be registered before proceeding with a transaction.  Registering your land helps to make it ready for sale and more marketable
  • Deeds can easily become lost or destroyed.  In contrast, there is a central, permanent, record of all registered land which anyone can access online or by making a postal application
  • Registered land offers more protection against property fraud.  The Land Registry requires confirmation of identity before registering a transfer of property.  It may notify you of certain applications against your title to check that they are genuine

Registering your unregistered land

If you own unregistered land, you should consider voluntarily applying for registration.  Why not discuss this with your solicitor?

What are the land registration fees?

The process is relatively straightforward.  Although the Land Registry’s fees are based on the value of your property, they are modest, and there is no need for a professional valuation.  There is also a 25 per cent reduction for voluntary first registrations. Registering your property now could save you time and expense in the long run and pre-empt issues in the future.

Land Registry FAQs

How long does the land registry take to update title deeds?

Processing times for updating the registry generally takes 4 to 6 weeks.

Can I claim adverse possession for unregistered land?

You would need to provide evidence of a) the fact of possession, which would for instance be a physical boundary such as fencing, b) the intention to possess and c) possession without the owner’s consent.  A property litigation lawyer can check with the Land Registry to determine if the land is registered.  If the land is registered with a true title owner  it can be challenging to claim adverse possession. If the land is unregistered, you have a better chance of being successful with a claim.

How do I register an easement over unregistered land?

Under a legal easement, registration can take place by way of a caution against first registration. An equitable easement is likely protected on the Land Charges register as a D(iii). For more detailed guidance it would be advisable to contact a property solicitor.

For a confidential discussion about registering your land, or for any property advice, contact Jane Bohill at Warners Solicitors in Kent on 01732 747900 or email [email protected]

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only.  They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.  Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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