Aerial photo of housing

When we tell people that 85 per cent of England and Wales is now registered the reaction is unlikely to be a hearty “Well done!”

Most will instead ask: “What about the other 15 per cent?”

The answer is that 2.3 million hectares have yet to be registered because their owners have not sold their property or taken out a mortgage since compulsory registration was introduced in their area. Both actions are ‘triggers’ for what we call first registration.

It’s important to realise that all unregistered property is owned by someone, even if it is not readily apparent who that is. There are various ways of trying to find out about specific plots, as we explained in an earlier blog.

But whoever the owner is, they are missing out on the benefits of registration including:

  • greater security of ownership, providing better protection against fraudulent or other claims
  • greater certainty about what they actually own
  • an easier life for them and their solicitors if they do decide to sell all or some of their property. Potential buyers increasingly expect land to be registered before buying.

To reap these benefits they can choose to register voluntarily, for which we offer the encouragement of a discount on the normal registration fee.

These advantages have persuaded many owners to opt for voluntary registration, particularly in the last 10 years. Over the past decade the amount of registered land has almost doubled to more than 13.1 million hectares.

Speeding up after a slow start

Registration was slow to get off the ground after HM Land Registry was created in 1862 because at first it was entirely voluntary.

Compulsory registration sped things up but some areas remained voluntary-only until the 1960s, 70s and even 80s.

It also left untouched those owners whose homes remained in the family for generation after generation. The same applied to many estates, companies, and public organisations.

Some people thought that was fair enough. However, it meant the owners lacked the security and certainty that registration brings.

As a result, the attractions of voluntary registration have been widely publicised and helped us reach the figure of 85 per cent registration. But will the percentage continue to climb?

As the years pass we’re receiving fewer first registration applications, partly because there’s now so much less unregistered land out there.

We know who owns quite a lot of the remaining hectares but for some tracts of land it’s less obvious.

What is clear is that the owners of the missing 15 per cent are missing out.

Gavin Curry
By Gavin Curry,
Digital Communications and Editorial Officer at HM Land Registry