All land in England and Wales falls into one of two categories, being either land registered at the Land Registry, in other words "registered land", or "unregistered land". The distinction is significant as there are key differences between the two in how ownership of land is evidenced and the mechanics involved in selling or otherwise disposing of interests in land. In this article we take a brief look at the background to land registration, the effect of registering land and we highlight a few key differences between registered and unregistered land.
Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, there was no system of land registration in England and Wales and therefore all land was unregistered. Land registration was first introduced in 1862, although this was initially very limited in geographical scope and only voluntary. Registration requirements have been gradually extended over time and since 1990, the whole of England and Wales has been subject to compulsory registration where a so-called "triggering event" occurs.
An analysis of the triggers for compulsory registration of land is beyond the scope of this article but a typical example of a triggering event requiring registration would be the sale of a plot of unregistered land on the open market. Land can also be voluntarily registered and there are often very good reasons for doing so, which are discussed later in this article. It is estimated that more than 88% of the land mass in England and Wales has now been registered.
Effect of registration
Once land has been registered, its ownership is evidenced by the register of title, which is a single statement showing the status of the title to the land as it stands at any given time. The information on the register of title is backed by government guarantee, allowing parties to place reliance on the information contained in the register when entering into transactions relating to the land.
In addition to revealing who owns the land, the title register also includes other important information relating to the land. The register is divided into three sub-registers, which contain the following information:
- Property register: This gives a description of the land including its address and includes details of rights which benefit the land.
- Proprietorship register: This sets out who owns the land, what class of title they are registered with (in other words whether there are any limitations or qualifications on their ownership of the land) and includes any restrictions which limit the owner's powers to sell or otherwise deal with the land.
- Charges register: This details the registered charges, notices and covenants which burden the land.
It must be noted that the register of title does not necessarily contain all rights and interests relating to the land. There are certain categories of rights and interests which can burden registered land without requiring registration. These are known as "overriding interests" and must always be considered alongside the register. These are beyond the scope of this note.
Key differences between registered and unregistered land
Evidence of Ownership
Ownership is evidenced by the register of title.
Ownership is evidenced by the title deeds.
Proving title to potential purchasers
Sellers of registered land need only provide an up to date copy of the register of title (although if the land is subject to any overriding interests of which the seller is aware, they must disclose these).
Sellers of unregistered land need to provide copies of the title deeds going back at least 15 years which show a good "root of title", for example, a conveyance of the land to them. Buyers should then satisfy themselves from the title deeds along with their own searches and inspection of the land that they will get good title to the land.
Registered land is guaranteed by the UK government. Anyone suffering loss as a result of a mistake in the register is therefore entitled to be indemnified for that loss.
There is no government guarantee.
Protecting third party interests
These can be protected by entering notices and restrictions on the title register.
Some interests can be protected by the registration of a land charge against the seller's name on the register kept by the Land Charges Department. Interested parties can also lodge a "caution against first registration", which results in their being notified when an application is made to register the land, at which time they can take appropriate action to protect their interest.
Benefits of registering land
There are many advantages of owning registered land over unregistered land. The following is a non-exhaustive list:
- Evidence of ownership is simpler and more straightforward being in the form of a single register of title. Owners no longer need to keep the physical title deeds and to worry about these being lost or stolen
- Title to the land is backed by government guarantee
- The process of selling and mortgaging land is easier and cheaper
- Registering land offers greater protection against squatters, as it is harder to claim adverse possession of registered land
Stevens & Bolton is well positioned to advise on all real estate transactions, including applications for first registration of land. If you have any questions on the above or require advice in this area, please contact our real estate team.