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Government urged to scrap Land Registry consultation

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing

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The Council of Property Search Organisations (CoPSO) has written to the Minister of State for Business and Energy, Michael Fallon MP, urging him to scrap the current consultation by the Land Registry on the centralisation of the local land charges register (LLCR).

The CoPSO's concerns include a "lack of clarity, unsubstantiated claims over improved delivery, potential consumer detriment and a total disregard for the loss of jobs and impact on the property market recovery are cited as the key concerns".

The government is currently undertaking two consultations - one to consider the restructuring of the Land Registry (which CoPSO believes is a fast track to privatisation) and another, which ends next week, setting out plans to centralise the LLCR and expand the Land Registry’s regulatory powers.

The Land Registry claims that centralising the LLCR will speed up the process and introduce a consistent pricing structure.
However, according to CoPSO its members already offer national pricing and searches are consistently delivered within seven days. In fact, CoPSO says that by centralising the LLCR in the way the Land Registry proposes, costs could rise and searches take longer.

James Sherwood-Rogers, chairman of CoPSO, said: “Turnaround times for searches will increase if centralisation goes ahead as they will simply be adding another layer in the process.
"The Land Registry will still require local authorities who currently maintain the LLCR to input data, but the local authorities will no longer be remunerated for doing this.

"From a budgetary perspective LAs will have to make staff cuts and thus the timeliness of data being input to the register is likely to suffer. The further concern is that experienced and knowledgeable employees who currently undertake the quality assurance will go and the Land Registry will not have the competence or local knowledge to undertake this function.

“Under the new plans, the Land Registry will only digitalise records back to 1999 which in one fell swoop will ignore the listing of thousands of homes, conservation areas and environmental issues. At the present time LAs will routinely examine data that goes back to 1926 meaning that homebuyers are fully informed about a property. One wonders what cost there may be for consumers if they buy a property in blissful ignorance of its history. Further what are the implications for the legal profession who are likely to be sued under their PI insurance policies?”

The Land Registry also proposes giving itself powers to make changes to the register data, which CoPSO had called a bizarre decision because it is suggesting that LAs will still be liable for any problems with the information that the Land Registry provides.

CoPSO warns that there will be endless squabbles between the Land Registry and LAs when something goes wrong and this will leave the consumer “high and dry with no clear pathway for redress".

The Land Registry has said it will introduce protocols and service level agreements with LAs but CoPSO questions how they will be enforced across 348 authorities and by whom and at what cost to the consumer.

Mr Sherwood-Rogers continued: “There is no good reason why around half of the £26 million earmarked for this centralisation should not be channelled into improving the structure that is already in place. This would enable the 30% or so of local authorities currently with non-digital records to convert these at a far lower cost to the public purse. In this way the Government’s ‘digital by default’ agenda could be delivered without all the risks that the Land Registry plans entail.

“There is another very worrying factor - the Land Registry has entirely omitted any reference to the potentially disastrous impact on the property market this centralisation may have during the several years they plan to take undertake the centralisation process. There have already been instances of LA employees fearful for their jobs quitting on mass resulting in huge delays for homebuyers in those locations. In Leicester this happened recently slowing up the search process to over 38 days. It is a known fact that the single biggest cause of transaction failure is delays in the process and with search times increasing dramatically this will happen.”

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