The current system of registration of land in England and Wales was brought into force by the Land Registration Act 1925 and is currently operated by the Land Registry, a non-ministerial Government department.
What is a registered title?
The first registration of a property creates a legal title; a document prepared by the Land Registry after careful consideration of the title deeds. The legal title will be stored on the Land Registry’s database and will set out any rights or obligations which benefit or burden the property, together with your name and address details. The Land Registry holds certified copies of the majority of title deeds provided to it upon first registration, and therefore the importance of being in possession of the original paper deeds is reduced.
Why isn't my property already registered?
The Government imposed orders requiring compulsory registration on a sale of a property across England and Wales in stages, with the last order being made in 1990 which made the whole of England and Wales subject to compulsory registration. To speed up the process further, in 1998 it became compulsory to make an application for first registration of a property not only on sale but also following a death, a gift of land or on the creation of a mortgage.
Whilst the majority of properties in the country have now been registered by the Land Registry, if you bought before the implementation of compulsory registration in the area where the property is located, then your property may still be unregistered.
What are the benefits of registration?
If you are planning to sell or remortgage your property in the future, it may be beneficial for you to speak with a solicitor or conveyancer with a view to making a voluntary application for first registration. Whilst instructing a solicitor to make this application on your behalf may seem premature, getting your property registered in advance is likely to make the process of selling or remortgaging smoother, cheaper and simpler to deal with. Some buyer’s solicitors and lenders may even refuse to complete until a property has been registered. The Land Registry also offers a discount on its fees for voluntary first registration applications.
Registration of your property not only provides you with proof of ownership, but can also provide you with protection from property fraud. The Land Registry has introduced various fraud protection measures, including the Property Alert Service, which allows for up to 10 properties to be monitored by the Land Registry on your behalf at no cost, together with the option to register a protective restriction on your legal title which will prevent the Land Registry registering a sale, transfer or mortgage of your property unless a conveyancer or solicitor can certify that the application was made by you. Only owners of registered properties can benefit from these measures.
What should I do if I want to register a property?
If you are the owner of an unregistered property, a solicitor or conveyancer will be able to make an application to the Land Registry for first registration on your behalf. Even if you cannot trace all the title deeds proving ownership of the property, it is still possible to proceed with registration by completing what is known as a statement of truth which sets out how deeds have been lost or destroyed. It may even be possible to claim ownership to land over which you have no title if you have been in adverse possession* of it for long enough.