The government’s proposed plan to privatise the Land Registry has received condemnation from the Law Society.
They warned that the proposals could undermine the integrity of the register and said that: ‘granting and validating legal title must be carried out with impartiality.’
Jonathan Smithers, Law Society deputy vice-president and Conveyancing and Land Law Committee chair, said: ‘Our members are one of Land Registry’s main customer groups and solicitors are broadly satisfied with the service they currently receive.
‘The Law Society does not have a political leaning towards any particular business model, but the Land Registry is part of the UK’s critical national infrastructure and we are concerned that the proposals for Land Registry could undermine the Register’s integrity and introduce conflicts of interest with potentially adverse economic results.’
The Law Society raised several concerns, including that: ‘the rationale for splitting policy making and delivery is not explained. Such a split risks creating increased layers of operation, making the process more complex and increasing costs.
Another concern raised was about ‘the ability of the Office of the Chief Land Registrar to regulate and manage a service delivery company effectively, particularly given government’s previous attempts at managing external agencies.’
The Law Society also expressed concern that ‘non-registration services could become the most important part of the business to shareholders of a privatised entity, particularly if there are no statutory control on prices, resulting in resources being diverted away from core registration services.’
The Law Society called on the government to be more specific about the benefits for the public of its proposals, particularly in view of the inherent risks.
If the government proceeds with the split and sets up a service delivery company, the Law Society’s preferred option would be a 100 per cent government-owned company.
The Council of Property Search Organisation (CoPso) have been staunch opposers to the proposed plans, and Chairman James Sherwood-Rogers, said:
‘The fact that the Law Society, one of the Land Registry’s main customers, has slammed this latest privatisation consultation raises serious concerns that the proposals will undermine the integrity of the service and we hope this will persuade the government to think again and scrap both consultations.
‘Industry professionals across the board believe the government is acting irresponsibly and not in the best interest of the industry. Indeed, 97% of conveyancers and property lawyers thought privatisation was a ‘bad’ idea in our own recent survey.’
There are two consultations to decide the future of the Land Registry, the first is being carried out by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to create a new Land Registry service delivery company which many see as a stepping stone for privatising the Land Registry.
The second consultation closed on 9th March and was in two parts, the first centred on the Land Registry having wider powers to take on other property related activities and the second focused on centralising the Local Land Charges register.