What is registered and unregistered land?

06 June 2017

The majority of land in England and Wales is registered.

The majority of land in England and Wales is registered. This means it is listed on the central register maintained by HM Land Registry of who owns what and on what terms and elements of this information are available to the public to view.

From around the 1990s (depending on where you were in the country) it became compulsory to register property on a disposition (e.g. a sale or the grant of a lease). Nonetheless, there remains a considerable area that is unregistered, particularly in East Anglia. No information is held at HM Land Registry about unregistered land.

If your land is unregistered you will need to rely on a pile of old documents and deeds to prove you own your land. You may hold those documents, your solicitors might or possibly your bank – the point is, you may not know where all of your deeds are. It can be difficult to make sure that all of these very important documents are kept safe and in the right place whenever you need them; the task of reviewing them (once found) to extract the relevant information can also be laborious.

There are a number of compelling reasons as to why we recommend that you register your land. I have set out a summary below.

Why should you register your land?

Once you register your land:

  1. HM Land Registry will reduce all of those documents and deeds down to a single concise electronic document along with a clear plan showing the full extent of the property
  2. the information relating to and proof of ownership of your land cannot be lost as it will be stored centrally at HM Land Registry
  3. any disputes regarding ownership (such as boundary disputes) can be resolved more readily
  4. you will be able to deal with any future property transactions more smoothly as there will be no delays in proving your ownership of your land and all the required information is readily available
  5. the ownership of your land will be guaranteed by HM Land Registry (which is government backed).

What if I can’t find all of my deeds?

You should still register your title! In fact, it is all the more important.

Registering your land is a good opportunity to rectify any problems on the title resulting from the missing documents which may put off any prospective purchaser or make it difficult to prove ownership if the need arises.

You may still be able to register your ownership by producing statements (called Statutory Declarations) concerning your ownership which HM Land Registry will accept as evidence of your ownership. This will provide protection against encroachment, i.e. protection from squatters who, if left in unchallenged occupation for too long, can claim ownership of the land instead of you. This is far more difficult for any squatters to achieve if your land is registered so the sooner you begin registering your land the better.

How long will this take?

This will depend on the complexity of your title deeds and the workload of HM Land Registry but as a rough rule of thumb we would typically suggest that voluntary registration will take approximately three to five months from instruction to completion.

Finally, the application fee for voluntary registration applications is approximately 25% lower than compulsory applications so we would encourage people to take advantage of this.

The content of this article is for general information only. For further information on registered and unregistered land, please contact Esther Round. Law covered as at June 2017.