Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Land Registry privatisation opposed by stakeholders

Land Registry privatisation opposed by stakeholders


Lawyers call for safeguarding of registry's service standards as privatisation looms

Proposals for the privatisation of the Land Registry could see consumers pay more for a sub-standard service, lawyers have argued.

Though the registry is currently a non-ministerial department, a consultation on government proposals to privatise the registry is due to close tomorrow, Friday 27 May.

However, for a second time in two years campaigners have handed in a petition to the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills in opposition to the government's plans.

In 2014, stakeholder groups handed to the then business secretary, Vince Cable, a 38 Degrees petition with104,888 signatures opposing his privatisation plans. The proposals were later scrapped.

At the last consultation, only 5 per cent of the responses agreed, while 95 per cent disagreed with the plans.

Now some 225,000 signatories dispute the government's view that there is no compelling case for keeping the registry in public ownership.

The chancellor, George Osborne, has sold off approximately £58bn in public assets over the last six years.

With the Land Registry contributing £100m a year to the treasury, the wisdom of selling off such a public asset has been questioned by a wide variety of stakeholders, including local authorities, search agents, and lawyers.

Many conveyancers have raised concerns about the proposals on behalf of their clients, including the president of the Law Society, Jonathan Smithers.

'Privatisation of the Land Registry would mark a significant change to a vital piece of our nation's infrastructure,' said Smithers. 'The ability of any owner or company to have certainty about the ownership and status of land is central to the way our economy functions.'

Private client specialists Wilsons claims the consultation document fails to commit to maintaining the Land Registry's service standards - adding that it is imperative this is addressed before plans are taken forwards, or consumers may suffer.

The firm explained that the document fails to detail the regulatory framework to handle customer complaints. In fact, it goes so far as to rule out the creation of an ombudsman.

Tim Clayden, a partner at the firm, said: 'The consultation document does not go far enough in setting out how consumers would be protected should the privatisation plans go ahead.

'Service standards at the Land Registry have suffered slightly in recent years as the organisation moves towards becoming a primarily online service. The Land Registry has undergone substantial cuts to its staff numbers which has made it harder to get to the bottom of issues when they occur.

'Privatisation could see standards dip further still if these are not agreed from the outset.'

Clayden added that it was difficult to support the case for privatisation when there is as yet no detail on how the private business will be held accountable when errors are made.

'Ultimately, unless service standards are set, consumers could pay more for a sub-standard service.'