Searching for Scrooge

Searching for Scrooge

Bob Cratchit recently came in to the Land Registry office in Croydon and asked a question we often get asked – can I find out what properties a person owned?

Bob’s search related to his old boss Ebenezer Scrooge and he wanted to do a search against his name alone. Bob, who had worked as Scrooge’s clerk for many years, knew that Scrooge had a vast fortune despite living a life of poverty for many years and he wanted to help Scrooge’s only known surviving relative, his nephew Fred, sort out the estate especially as just prior to his death, Scrooge had been so generous to Bob and his family. Sadly we could not help Bob but we were able to explain a few of the options available, which might help Fred at least.

We do have to keep an index of proprietors names (IOPN) but it is classed as ‘personal data’ so we cannot simply disclose it, even under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 or even when asked by someone as fictionally famous as Bob Cratchit.

There are however, some instances when you can do a search against a name such as:

  • your own name, ie Bob Cratchit; or
  • the name of a corporate body, such as a registered company ie Ebenezer Scrooge Limited; or
  • the name of some other person in whose property you can satisfy us that you are interested generally. In this context, ‘interested generally’ has a particular legal meaning for example you are a personal representative, so may search against the name of the deceased – if you produce the relevant evidence, such as probate or letters of administration. A death certificate is not sufficient as it does not prove you are the personal representative.

As Scrooge’s only surviving relative, Fred may well have applied for Probate if Scrooge had left a will and this would give him the authority to complete the search of the IOPN using form PN1. A miserly fee of £11 per name is charged.

Another example is where bankruptcy, receivership or liquidation might be involved, so if Scrooge has perhaps been far less frugal, and in his later life he was certainly very generous, the unthinkable could have happened.

Nobody is too sure about what businesses Scrooge was running but after spending such huge sums on the local community and Bob Cratchit’s family he might have gone bust and as such have had to apply for personal bankruptcy. As a result the Official Receiver might have appointed a ‘trustee in bankruptcy’ and if Scrooge hadn’t been totally honest, despite his life-changing and ghostly revelations, with the Receiver about his ownership of several London properties, the Receiver could search against Scrooge’s name to see what he owned.

So if Fred, as Scrooge’s executor, completed the IOPN search, he would receive a list of the title numbers where an Ebenezer Scrooge appears as either an owner of, or a lender against any land or property in England and Wales, either on his own or with someone else. Fred would need to understand that the result does not distinguish between different persons or organisations having the same name but the name wasn’t and still isn’t that common so his result would probably have been simply in respect of the actual Scrooge.

Nowadays of course the result would more than likely be a clear one as the name seems not to exist. Searching against the name Charles Dickens though would probably give a fuller result as the name is fairly common as the phone book suggests there are no Ebenezer Scrooges around or at least not on the phone, presumably cut off for not paying his phone/broadband bill, whilst there are up to 86 Charles Dickens.

If the result doesn’t come up with any title numbers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Scrooge didn’t own any land or property. It could be that the land and properties simply aren’t registered because Scrooge had owned them for many years but knowing what a shrewd business man he was reported to be the result would probably have revealed some interesting details.

Note – A Christmas Carol was of course a work of fiction and it pre-dates land registration by some 19 years but the references to name searches and IOPN are of course all quite real.

See our guidance: Searches of the Index of proprietors’ names (practice guide 74) for more details.


AdamH
By AdamH,
Customer Service Representative at HM Land Registry Head Office