Voluntary first registration is to voluntarily register your residential property for the first time at HM Land Registry.
Registration of your property at the Land Registry is the official recording of your property ownership with the Land Registry's Land Register, which is the official ownership list for property in England and Wales.
Historically, all land in England and Wales was unregistered. However, the Land Registration Act 1925 introduced compulsory registration of land with the Land Registry.
The Land Registration Act 1925 was phased until 1990 when any trigger events to a property, such as a sale or mortgage, sparked a first registration.
The Land Registry aims to achieve 'comprehensive registration' by 2030, that is, for most of the land in England and Wales to be registered.
The Land Registry acknowledges that there will always be some land where the owners are difficult to identify, which is why it aims to achieve 'comprehensive' rather than 'total' registration.
Nevertheless, this is an ambitious goal and, therefore, is heavily reliant upon voluntary first registrations.
How do I know if my property is registered?
A solicitor can quickly search the Land Registry's business portal to confirm whether your property is registered and if there are any pending applications against it. Every registered property is assigned a unique title number.
The public can also visit the gov.uk website to access Land Registry documents, where a copy of your property's title register can be obtained for a small fee, which is currently £3.00.
If your property is not revealed as registered when you conduct the above search, do not panic! A voluntary first registration can rectify this.
It is also possible to leave your property as it is, unregistered, and sell it as an unregistered property when you come to sell, but this could cause additional costs and delay at the time.
What does it mean if my property is unregistered?
If your property is unregistered, your ownership is only documented in your paper title deeds and not stored centrally at the Land Registry.
Your property is likely unregistered if it has not been subjected to any trigger events since 1990.
Therefore, it is prudent to instruct a property solicitor to deal with your first registration as soon as possible rather than wait for one of these events.
What are the benefits of voluntary first registration?
There are a multitude of benefits of voluntary first registration, which are set out below:
- Proof of your ownership is held centrally by the Land Registry, and copies of the title register confirming your ownership and any other title documents can easily be obtained online for a small fee. You will not have to worry about misplacing the paper deeds, or if the property is being sold on behalf of your estate by your executors after your death, it will be much easier to sell if your executors do not have to track down the deeds first. Deeds are often hidden in a drawer or box in your house, held by your mortgage lender or in the deeds store of the solicitors who acted for you when you purchased the property many years ago. This can make it hard for your executors of family members to locate when the deeds are needed.
- Protecting you against property fraud – Property fraud is prevalent, and you are more at risk if the property is not registered with the Land Registry, especially if the property is empty or not mortgaged. If your property is registered, you can sign up to receive free property alerts from the Land Registry, where you will be notified if someone applies to change your property's title register, such as if someone tried to register the property in a different name or use your property to take out a mortgage. If your property is registered, you can also restrict your title to prevent the Land Registry from registering a sale or mortgage on your property unless a solicitor or conveyancer certifies that you did this.
- Peace of mind – Taking action now will minimise delays and fees when you are ready to sell the property, as the title documentation necessary for the conveyancing will be readily available from the Land Registry and can be quickly obtained online by your solicitor and provided to the buyer's solicitors. If your property is unregistered, your solicitor will need to obtain the paper deeds from you or wherever they are held, examine them and produce an epitome of title for the buyer's solicitors to demonstrate how you have come to own the property and, likewise, the buyer's solicitors will need to examine these documents which all costs time and money.
- Boundaries of your property are clearly defined – When the property is registered for the first time at the Land Registry, the Land Registry will produce a title plan showing the property's boundaries, which should accord with those on the ground. If you identify any discrepancies, such as if some garden area or driveway is missing, you can rectify this rather than wait for it to come to light when a neighbour challenges your ownership of the land, or you are selling the property.
- Cheaper registration fees – The Land Registry will charge to register the property for the first time or any change of ownership. The cost will depend on the property's value, but the Land Registry will charge more if the property is being registered for the first time because of a trigger event such as a sale or mortgage. The Land Registry offers a 25% discount on the registration fee if it is a voluntary first registration.
How do I register my property?
You can register your property yourself with the Land Registry, and there is guidance on the gov.uk website that you might find helpful.
However, this is a tricky process, and it is difficult to understand all the legal terms or to satisfy all of the Land Registry's requirements, so it is best to instruct a solicitor to deal with this for you to ensure that all the correct documentation and information is submitted to the Land Registry to avoid the application being rejected by the Land Registry or the property being registered incorrectly.
Your solicitor will need you to verify your identity with them and supply the original deeds to the property or let them know where these are stored so they can request them on your behalf.
Your solicitor will then examine and collate the relevant documents, complete the Land Registry application enclosing all the supporting evidence to show the Land Registry that you are the owner of the property or the person entitled to have the property registered in your name and arrange for the relevant registration fee to be paid.
Suppose the Land Registry raise any requisitions (requests for information) about the application or supporting evidence. In that case, your solicitor will deal with these on your behalf but may need further information from you to satisfy the Land Registry's requisitions.
What should I do if I have lost my title deeds and know my property is unregistered?
The Land Registry has special requirements for these circumstances.
The Land Registry requests that you provide the following information:
- Information so that they can identify the correct boundaries of the property on the Ordnance Survey map.
- A signed statutory declaration or statement of truth providing a detailed account of the events which led up to the loss or destruction of the title deeds, for example, who had possession of them, what proactive steps have been taken to retrieve them and where they were stored.
- Evidence of possession.
- A reconstruction of the title as far as possible.
- Details of any overriding interests which you have over the land.
- A signed undertaking to return any lost deeds to the Land Registry if they are found in the future.
- Your identification documents as the applicant.
- The correct fee.
How long will it take to register my property?
Timescales depend greatly on the Land Registry processing times at that current time.
Once an application for first registration has been submitted to the Land Registry, it will aim to complete your registration within fourteen months.
There are some limited circumstances where you can apply to have your application expedited by the Land Registry, but there is no guarantee.
Therefore, you should consider this timescale, especially if you plan to sell your property soon.
By taking a proactive approach now, you will avoid any potential delays to your transaction.