PCS is warning that proposals to amend land registration rules could threaten the integrity of the land register, push up costs to the public, and put small and medium sized businesses at risk. Have your say in the government consultation by 6pm tomorrow (5 April).
The latest government proposals concerning HM Land Registry have the potential to change the very way land registration is completed, how applications are lodged, indeed whether some applications have to be lodged as such at all.
HM Land Registry is currently rolling out the digitisation of e-mortgages. Despite the digitisation of this comparatively basic application not having been fully tested in terms of risks of fraud and costs, HM Land Registry is now proposing that they be given authority to roll out future digital services without the need for public or parliamentary scrutiny.
In our response to the consultation, PCS makes the point that each transaction dealt with by the Land Registry is very different and brings with it diverse considerations and risks. Therefore any attempt to change the way a future transaction is processed should be considered on its own merits.
Last year the public again overwhelmingly rejected plans by the government to privatise HM Land Registry. The widely-held belief is that HM Land Registry should remain within government and be bound by the scrutiny that brings, and be accountable to the public through parliament. Yet these plans seek to remove this by allowing future changes to how the process of land registration is carried out to go ahead without public and parliamentary scrutiny.
We are raising concerns about where the future liability for the data entered on the register will lie. If the system becomes more automated and HR Land Registry staff who currently carry out checks throughout the processes, are removed from the processing function, then the future burden of liability could shift to the applicant themselves.
Any shift in liability could result in further costs and insurance, which will ultimately fall on the individual or company who is borrowing, buying or selling, and will have an impact on the overall cost of land transactions. This is liable to have an impact on the housing market and the wider economy.
The public could also be disadvantaged by the limiting of access to local HM Land Registry offices. We believe that reducing public counter opening times or appointment facilities threatens to restrict the public in carrying out transactions themselves, pushing up conveyancing costs. We do not agree that these services should be wound down for what appear to be cost cutting purposes, and should instead form part of the ‘assisted digital’ provision for HM Land Registry services.
The proposals are also likely to favour the larger conveyancing firms who can invest in the necessary technology to interact with HM Land Registry systems. Small and medium-sized conveyancers not as able to make such investments could got to the wall as they find it harder to compete.