Land Registry are currently concluding a yearlong prototype to assess if they can become the custodians of the local land charge register and sole providers of official conveyancing searches.
An announcement is expected by the end of this year that the Land Registry is to become the sole provider of official searches. Is this a brave new world of linked data or the rise of a new monopoly?
Since the Land Charges Act of 1925 the responsibility of maintaining and providing searches of the local land charges register fell with the ‘proper officer’ or registrar in the local council. Things continued relatively uneventfully through successive acts.
The charge in local land charges is the same tense as to impose a duty or obligation upon. I find it cringe worthy that so many council’s local land charges websites have graphics displaying a plethora of coins and or pound signs, this is ironic as the service has long been used as a cash cow by councils to generate income.
The purpose of the register was to enable conveyancers to advise clients on the risks entailed in buying a property such as if there was protected tree, a conservation order, a compulsory purchase order, enforcement notice or an obligation with outstanding contributions. The charges run with the property so are binding on successive owners.
The 1925 act required that local land charges were recorded in the eleven parts of the register which occupied well-thumbed tomes in each authority. Each registration was against land and to simplify the searching process the registrar would draw the extent of each registration in a map book of ordnance survey plotting sheets.
Along came the technological revolution and forward thinking councils translated this practise to Geographical Information Systems and searches of the register could be performed almost instantly. A significant proportion of councils continued the manual way and still do, these suffered when local government cuts reduced staff and turnaround increased, however the more automated councils coped with fewer staff without a decline in service.
In the 1990’s companies began to exploit a practise called a ‘personal search’. This was where the register could be inspected on payment of a small fee. It was designed for instances where a quick sale was needed for example a house bought in an auction. This was then used to compile private searches to sell on to solicitors with an added mark up and the personal search industry was born. This industry rose to prevalence during the ill-fated home information pack and soon gained around three quarters of the market share over local authorities.
Even though the legislation just required inspection for a personal search the majority of local authorities preformed the work themselves, so in effect the companies got an official search at a fraction of the price ready to sell on to a solicitor.
The government decided to double the personal search fee to £22 to cover staff costs, the personal search companies lobbied the government using the argument that the fee was incompatible with European law which granted inspection in situ to be provided without charge. The government dropped the statutory fee and gave local authorities a woefully inadequate lump sum out of the new burdens kitty for loss of income and repayment of fees; this lit the fuse for the next action.
An amalgamation of personal search companies are currently engaged in litigation action to reclaim all personal search fees paid since January 2005 to August 2010, any settlement will place a burden on already cash strapped local authorities.
The Land Registry prototype has run for nearly a year and has included parallel processing with local authorities, it is due to end next month and a business case will be submitted for approval.
This move will lead to many hundreds of redundancies in local government and many more in personal search companies who will experience a market changing event that will make them have to rethink their business model. It looks like the land charges register will be again under lock and key with the only means of access being an official search or authorised searches by companies willing to pay the land registry for licensed access.
Many argue that taking over local land charges is too big a job however proposals have already been received by tech companies willing to digitise local authority data and software providers to local government such as Idox to create interfaces between local authorities and the land registries systems.
Once the local land charges registers have been migrated to a central repository a Local Land Charges search could be done instantly and made available to download once payment has been made. This would be in conjunction with other land registry searches and other additions to their portfolio such as drainage searches and coal mining searches.
The CON29 is a document which lists matters which may be of concern to prospective buyers. It is usually submitted in conjunction with the seach of the Local Land Charges Register.
Con29 information is gathered by the Local Land Charges section asking departments such a Building Control a list of set questions which might be of interest to the house buyer. The Land Registry do not want to take on CON29 data because of EIR but do want to develop interfaces between the local authorities computer systems and the land registry.
The UPRN (unique property reference number) is as the name suggests a unique id that is assigned to each property by the local authority, this UPRN links data within the council departments to a single gazetteer. UPRNs are uploaded to the NLPG (National Land and Property Gazetteer) and shared with public bodies such as emergency services, HMRC and the Land Registry.
A UPRN can include a polygon called a BLPU which can be used to extract layers of information spatially, all the land registry would have to do is to send a request for CON29 information to the coordinating software connected to council systems and the CON29 data could be returned.
While bringing standardisation to the searches market the land registry proposals have the danger of producing a monopoly at the taxpayers’ expense to the detriment of local authorities who will have to continue compiling the information to upload to the Land Registry, local land charges staff who will lose thier jobs and personal search companies who will find themselves in an unsustainable market.
Pseudo Polymorphic Code
// gets all registrations whose polygon the uprn is within or intersects with
// gets all Con29 information from council systems which are associated with the properties uprn
The Customer accesses the Land Registry user interface and selects an LLC1 and a CON29 search.