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Land Registry: An Open or Shut Case for Property Title Theft?

View profile for Paul Hajek
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stamp out property title theftThe Land Registration Act 1925 “modernised” conveyancing by making it compulsory for some property transactions to be registered as part of the conveyancing process.

The Land Registry is the government department which records all property transactions and compiles a register of the ownership of the property, the rights which go with that property and what rights and covenants affect that property.

Thus, was born the concept of registered land and by exclusion unregistered land. The ultimate goal is to have all properties in England and Wales registered at the Land Registry

You were either in possession of a watermarked Land Certificate from the land Registry (where there was no mortgage); a Charge Certificate (where there was) or you were in possession of a bunch of title deeds to your property; that pretty much was it.

The Land Register more importantly was private with no public access to its register. Conveyancing Solicitors respectfully asked permission in writing from the Solicitors acting for the Seller to be able to view the register on behalf of their buying client.

The instances of fraud, by identity theft, false claims of ownership, and obtaining mortgages on a property which was not yours were very low.

Life was still that simple as far back as 2003: then the bright sparks at the Land Registry wanted to go paperless, and in 2006 the Land Register became a document of public record.

Gone was the certainty of a tangible Land Certificate or Charge Certificate; replaced by a paperless entry.

The Law of Unintended Consequences:

What was now able to occur was for every budding fraudster (and some owners) being able to see everything on line and without restriction.

I kid you not but as part of the original opening up of the register your exact mortgage account number was also on view (this practice has thankfully been stopped)

So, step forward the criminals who pretend to be you and borrow money on your property leaving you to pick up the tab when they run off with their ill-gotten gains. Property Title Theft was born.

A report in the Guardian Last week revealed that the Land Registry paid out last year compensation for fraud amounting to £4.51m, the second highest on record. There were 53 cases of fraud compensated

Internal emails, obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act, show the Land Registry tried to cover up the extent of the fraud. The land Registry had hoped to divert unwanted questions about whether the abolition of Land and Charge Certificates had contributed to registration fraud

An Easy Solution:

So a plea for the good old days- make the Land Register private again and be route out potential fraud at source.

To paraphrase the political mantra “tough on property identity theft and the causes of property identity theft”

Are the government and the Land Registry listening?