House of Commons Library

Land Registry Privatisation

Published Friday, December 9, 2016

This House of Commons Library Briefing Paper provides an overview of the role and functions of the Land Registry, and historical reviews of its operating model. In 2016 the Government consulted on proposals to move Land Registry operations to the private sector. The paper outlines the debate for and against privatisation of the Land Registry.

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Land Registry Status and Functions

Her Majesty’s Land Registry (Land Registry) was created in 1862 and is one of the oldest land registration organisations in the world. It is a non-ministerial department, and an Executive Agency of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Since April 1993, the Land Registry has operated as a ‘Trading Fund’, which means that it is required to ensure that its income from fees covers all of its expenditure under normal operating conditions.

The main statutory function of the Land Registry is to keep a register of title to freehold and leasehold land throughout England and Wales. On behalf of the Crown, it guarantees title to registered estates and interests in land. Its functions are therefore integral to the effective functioning of the property market. In addition to its core statutory functions, the Land Registry undertakes a number of commercial services. Measures introduced in the Infrastructure Act 2015 will enable the Land Registry to develop new land and property services, and to take on responsibility for providing a single, digital Local Land Charge register.

2014 Consultation on Land Registry Service Delivery Company

The Land Registry has undergone several reviews over the last 15 years. In 2014 the Coalition Government consulted on a proposal to create a new Land Registry Service Delivery Company, with responsibility for policy being retained by an Office of the Chief Land Registrar in government. It was proposed that this model would “allow a greater focus on service delivery, greater operational flexibility around pay, recruitment and possibly provide other services and a more clearly defined relationship with Government”. The majority of responses to the consultation expressed concerns about the proposal, and the Government decided not to change Land Registry’s operating model at that time.

2016 Consultation on Land Registry Privatisation

On 24 March 2016, the Government launched a public consultation on moving Land Registry operations to the private sector. The consultation document set out the Government’s view that privatisation would deliver a capital receipt for Government and could support the Land Registry to be run more efficiently and effectively. The Government’s preferred Land Registry operating model was privatisation with a contract between government and a private sector operator.

The public consultation closed on 26 May 2016. Many organisations and individuals expressed concerns about the risks and consequences of privatisation.  The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), for example, was strongly opposed to the proposal, and identified a range of potential negative impacts on public trust, impartiality, service quality, fees and access to data. A 38 degrees petition to stop the privatisation of the Land Registry gained over 300,000 signatures.

In the Autumn Statement 2016 the Government announced that the Land Registry will remain in the public sector and will focus on becoming a more digital data-driven registration business.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7556

Author: Hannah Cromarty

Topics: Housing, Land law, Owner occupation

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