HM Land Registry has published a mammoth set of data on requests for further information. Are firms with a high requisition rate ready to learn lessons from the exercise?

HM Land Registry has fulfilled its promise to reveal how good are individual conveyancing firms at applying for changes to the register – by publishing three massive spreadsheets with 15-column tables of numbers. 

Monidipa Fouzder 2018

Monidipa Fouzder

What use anyone will make of the data remains to be seen. The spreadsheets give figures for the number of requests for further information (requisitions) sent to the Registry’s largest 500 customers in the last three quarters of calendar 2018. However it is up to people downloading the data to make sense of the raw numbers, for example by calculating the percentage of applications resulting in a requisition. And the Registry says that it has no way of identifying which requisition requests are a result of its own errors. 

The data released includes the name of the customer, number of applications (first registration, transfers of part, discretionary lease, register update) lodged, number of applications completed by the Registry, and number of requests for information in each category. 

HM Land Registry would not comment on what the data may mean, though it has promised a blog on the subject. This will be helpful because conveyancers, let alone ordinary home buyers or sellers, will struggle to comprehend the raw numbers.  

Beth Rudolf, director of delivery at the Conveyancing Association, says the tables do not differentiate between issues the conveyancer has control over, such as correctly executed documents and consistency in the spelling of names, and those which the conveyancer has no control over, such as the certificate required under a leasehold restriction. 

The Law Society agreed, saying: ‘While we should seek to drive down the number of errors, we must also recognise that delays can be caused by mistakes either from HM Land Registry, or because there is information awaited from third parties such as lenders or managing agents.’ 

It would be great if HMLR could show the proportion of leaseholds or dealings on a title which is mortgaged so that firms can see where there is a genuine problem and consumers can compare apples with apples 

Beth Rudolf, Conveyancing Association

Land Registry admits that the conveyancer is not always to blame. Requisitions can arise, for instance, when it is exercising its power to ask for more information under rule 17 of the Land Registration Rules 2013, or when information was requested in error. 

Firms that appear to have high requisition rates understandably point to this unfairness. Newport firm Collingbourne Hennah Law received requisitions for 67.5% of applications in the last quarter of 2018. The firm’s director, Nathan Hennah, said that requisitions are frequently raised that are ‘wholly unnecessary and without due consideration of documents’. He blamed understaffing at Land Registry: ‘Our view is that predominantly all requisitions are unnecessary and could be resolved by either reading and understanding documents correctly, or in the alternative, a call to the applicant.’ 

When asked if Land Registry intends to publish data for how many requests were made in error, it replied: ‘The dataset includes all requests for information so therefore will include those that HMLR may have raised in error. It is not possible to identify and therefore extract this information as a separate dataset.’ 

Rob Hailstone, chief executive of Bold Legal Group, a practitioner body, says it is ‘fine and dandy’ producing the requisition data ‘as long as some good comes of it’. The priority should be to look at those firms with a requisition rate of 40% and above, he says. ‘Getting those firms to improve (if the fault is actually theirs) would reduce the average substantially.’

Land Registry says it is working with its customers and introducing new technology to improve requisition accuracy. Nearly 10,000 customers have joined its online webinars to learn how to get applications right first time. Internally, caseworkers are being trained to ensure requisitions are raised in a consistent way. Land Registry is also planning to refresh its online business portal.

Rudolf suggests that data should be published for all conveyancers, not just the top 500, and should clearly differentiate the type of requisition raised. ‘The inclusion of the indication of the total number of applications made by the conveyancer is helpful and it would be great if HMLR could show the proportion of leaseholds or dealings on a title which is mortgaged so that firms can see where there is a genuine problem and consumers can compare apples with apples,’ she says.

HMLR has no plans to extend publication.