It is now compulsory to register an unregistered property when it is sold, gifted, transferred or mortgaged, or where a new lease is granted for more than 7 years. However, around 15% of the land in England and Wales still remains unregistered. This means that the Land Registry holds little or no information for those properties.
When a property is not registered at the Land Registry, historic title deeds are required to prove ownership of a property. This may not sound like a big issue, however, finding deeds can prove difficult when the property has not changed hands for a substantial period. There is also a chance of the deeds being damaged, destroyed or worse - forged.
In the case of title deeds being lost or destroyed, the process of re-constructing the title can be very time-consuming and costly, as it involves a thorough investigation into the history of ownership of the property and the preparation of documentation to prove ownership such as Statutory Declarations sworn by current owners or occupiers of the property. Matters may be further complicated in the event that the owners of the property have since died and the property has been left to beneficiaries with little or no knowledge of the property.
Registering property gives owners security and provides better protection against fraudulent claims to the property, such as “adverse possession” (also known as squatter’s rights) and allows the rectification of any boundary issues at the point of registration rather than on the sale of the property (which can substantially delay a sale).
The Land Registry offers a reduced fee for Voluntary First Registration applications as an incentive for owners to register their properties. The process of registration is generally straightforward and involves a solicitor procuring the relevant documents to prove ownership, including details of charges or mortgages, and submitting these to the Land Registry.