Government consults on quick sale of Land Registry

Topics: Property commercial,Property residential,Government & politics,Conveyancing

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  • External view of Land Registry HQ Croydon

The government yesterday published options for the £1bn-plus privatisation of Land Registry, as flagged by chancellor George Osborne in last week’s budget.

Ownership of the Land Register is set to remain in public hands, with the preferred model a contract between government and a private operator that will take effect next year under which all core functions will be outsourced.


‘Key protections’ are also promised for customers, including fees being approved by parliament and the continuation of the state-backed guarantee when a loss is incurred as a result of a mistake in the register. The changes will require primary legislation.

Announcing the consultation, business secretary Sajid Javid said: 'By proposing a model where government retains critical functions, including ownership of the Register itself, we are delivering on our promise to ensure the sale of public assets benefits the wider economy and all working people in the longer-term.’

The proposals will prove controversial. Plans to turn the bulk of Land Registry into a stand-alone company as a precursor to privatisation were shelved under the coalition government in 2014, following a barrage of criticism. Members of trade union PCS went on strike in protest at those proposals, which the Law Society warned could ‘undermine the register’s integrity and introduce conflicts of interest with potentially adverse economic results’.

The PCS has already promised a ‘major campaign’ against the latest plans, under which it is proposed that the 'majority’ of Land Registry staff will transfer to the new private contractor.  

In a statement, the union said: 'Two years ago when the coalition government tried to hive off the well-respected 150-year-old agency the union worked with politicians, and housing industry and legal professionals to successfully make the case for continued public ownership.

'This latest plan – published cynically at 5pm on the last day before the parliamentary recess – is being driven by the Treasury’s demand for cuts and short-term returns with, we believe, little enthusiasm from the business minister responsible.’

Although the government has put forward a preferred option, it stressed that no final decision on the future model of Land Registry has been made. However the document stresses the need for speed to reduce uncertainty and prevent 'investor fatigue'.

The consultation closes on 26 May. 

Readers' comments (12)

  • Why bother with privatising bits and pieces of public services. Why not privatise the whole of the state functions, including most importantly, the government ministries. Main proviso being that none of the present cabinet should be employed ever. That will solve everything.

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  • The Land Registry is a world class organisation , with a priceless public sector ethos committed to protecting the integrity of the record of the ownership of the very fabric of the nation.

    You cannot shatter the coherence of such a body by stripping out profit streams for outside investors to distort and corrupt, without the integrity of the state title guarantee being contaminated to some degree.

    This is fixing a problem which isn't there.

    How long will it be until magistrates courts become retail style outlets for local justice perhaps "Justice 'r' Us?

    The impotent Law Society has the resources to make a fuss about this piece of treasury inspired dogma - will it?

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  • It has always been the case that a sale of a government organisation is for quick money instead of the long term. It is amusing that the same government that doesn't bawk at increasing court fees by thousands of pounds doesn't consider increasing land registry fees at all. This is probably because the court fees were increased in order to enable the courts to 'pay for themselves'. As the LR does not run at a loss, a similar justification will not work.

    In 2015 a conservative estimate of around 4.7 million applications were processed by the land registry. ( In order to make £1Billion over 22.6 years a fee increase of £4 on all applications would be required. A £5 increase would net the same in around 13 years.

    If the LR is sold and is run by a private organisation, in addition to a lot of ancillary issues this would cause, increased profits would be required to justify the investment. I have no doubt they will not shy away from increasing fees. Probably justified by the fact that they have to keep funds saved or pay insurance premiums to indemnity people against their own mistakes which will probably rise due to profit driven cuts across the organisation.

    Maybe this consultation is all a political ploy so that people like me rejoice when the government increases LR fees instead of selling it for pennies on the pound. Who knows, one can only hope.

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  • Having, goodness alone knows why, opted for a state run system of owning, selling, leasing and charging land, why then privatise it? Why not return it to the way things once were pre-1925? Flogging it off to the type of person who then sacks half the staff and who then moves it on at a profit is a recipe for disaster. Land ownership, and interests in, and charges over, land have to be capable of indisputable proof. The best ones to see that it is are those who have the greatest interest in doing so.

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  • The Sunday Times yesterday reported that a Canadian pension fund, Omers "which invests the pension savings of Ontario's public sector workers" is a lead contender. Private equity firms are also said to be interested.

    The Land Registry (described as an 'agency') is reported to have made a surplus of £100m in the 2013 financial year, and could be worth up to £1.2bn. The reasons for selling appear to be only the rationale of privatising and shrinking the state, and raising money on a one-off basis. As others have commented, privatisation will likely lead to increased fees and a less efficient service. I wonder if the Government will still stand as insurer of last resort if the Land Registry cocks up and allows fraudsters to 'steal' titles? Land after all is still held of the Crown.

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  • Simon, this government would sell its own mother for a fiver. But how else is it going to reduce the debt, or the deficit, or both? And, horror of horrors, I read in The Sunday Telegraph that it is sending troops to Libya. To make a mistake once is a part of the learning process. To make the same mistake twice is idiocy. And quite apart from the wisdom of such an adventure, where is the money for that supposed to come from?

    "You sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind".

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  • Canadian pension funds and the like may well fancy their chances but like most of the previous sell offs, I suspect it'll be one of these clandestine outsourcing giants who find their way to the contract. Jobs for the boys and what not...

    David, re the Middle-East - it's a region of the world which Britain and the rest of the West will simply never, ever understand. Heck, in this country children aren't even taught about the British Mandate for Palestine and our key role in forming Israel. I suspect a damn sight more of us would find the thought of sending troops into that region nauseating if they knew their history!

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  • No real point in discussing it here, despite posts #2/4/6.**.
    Just respond to the Consultation Document.

    ** LSG: please number posts displayed, to assist in cross-referencing!

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  • An appalling idea. What else can you say?


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  • Jeffrey

    Consultations are a complete waste of air space

    Political heat is the answer

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