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19 June 2018

King West

Why should land owners voluntarily register land?

Finding your land inhabited by others seems far-fetched and something more akin with the small screen than real life, but there are numerous examples of where this is a reality, resulting in lengthy and costly legal cases which could have been avoided should land have been voluntarily registered on the Land Registry.  

There are large pockets of land in the UK which remain unregistered, despite being farmed or managed for decades. As farmed land is often passed down through family lines as opposed to transferred by private treaty or auction sale, when missing paperwork would be noted and managed, generations of land management could pass before an issue over ownership is highlighted. 

A recent court case highlighted this issue, where a farmer found two managing agents walking on his 20 hectare farm, as their employer had registered the freehold of 16 hectares of the land by submitting a statement of truth to the Land Registry claiming their ownership, some years prior. 

When the rightful landowner, the farmer, applied to register the full extent of the farm at the Land Registry, the previous claim of ownership came to light. The owner’s solicitors were able to produce title deeds which proved ownership of the land, including the 16 hectares in dispute. In response, the claimant to the land agreed to surrender and cancel its freehold registration- although the legal process has taken over 2 years to bring to a close, with significant costs incurred. The owner has only been partially reimbursed for costs incurred, thus causing concern, uncertainty and loss of income in addition to significant legal expense. 

As long as land remains unregistered, it is possible that other land owners will be faced with similar issues. As such, we urge any farmers and landowners to register their unregistered land at the Land Registry, not only to reduce the chance of successful third-party claims, but to create a clear record of ownership should the land ever be brought to the market. 

Additional benefits to having all land registered include; protection of the registered titles under a government guarantee, any boundary disputes can be resolved more easily and quickly, adverse possession claims are far easier to defeat, valuations are possible at a lower cost and any transactions involving the land will be cheaper and quicker than for unregistered land. 

Other disadvantages to unregistered land include; lack of ability to prove ownership should original deeds be lost or destroyed, handwritten documents dating back centuries, can be difficult to read and interpret, should the landowner pass away, deeds may not be easily located and thus open to fraud, as well as being emotionally challenging at an already testing and sensitive time.  

Considering the benefits and risks, we would encourage all land owners to engage in the registration process for all unregistered land by making an application for voluntary first registration to the Land Registry. Applications in this form, additionally, attract a 25% lower registration fee than for compulsory first registration which occurs when the land is first transferred. 

King West have significant experience in managing Land Registry applications and processes. If you feel you would benefit from a discussion around your land, registration, deeds and ownership, are considering your longer-term position, or are contemplating bringing your land to market, in the first instance, please contact Harry Epsom on hepsom@kingwest.co.ukor by calling 01858 411539.

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