This time last year HM Land Registry had just published its ‘customer charter’, outlining a series of pledges and requirements. ‘You have told us that we need to be easy to do business with, get things right first time, provide quick, accurate and consistent delivery and find solutions to potential challenges,’ it said.
Is it, does it and has it?
Chris Pope, chief operations officer, begins our chat with a big number: Land Registry received 34 million service requests last year.
The Registry employs 5,706 staff across 14 offices (1,000 were recruited between September 2017 and March 2018). However, after the 2007/08 property crash, it shrank in size by 40%, Pope says. ‘Between then and 2016, the government was considering privatising Land Registry and decided in December 2016 to keep it in the public sector.’
As a result, there has been a ‘historic lack of investment’ and ‘it is important that our customers and stakeholders appreciate that – because it explains to a large extent why our business strategy is what it is.’
That strategy includes driving down the number of requisitions (requests to applicants for further information). Land Registry began publishing requisition figures for the top 500 conveyancers – a bone of contention for many practitioners.
Land Registry acknowledges requisitions is a sore topic – one of the titles of its slides at this month’s National Property Law Conference was ‘Application quality and the vexed subject of requisitions’. One conveyancer told the conference that publication of the data felt like he and his colleagues were being ‘hung, drawn and quartered’.
Last year, Land Registry raised around 5,000 requisitions every working day. Pope said: ‘The cost of us issuing a letter asking for further information is £8 a time. We think the cost to the consumer is probably a lot more than that. If we’re doing 5,000 a day, that’s £40,000 a day for us. It’s not just the financial costs but the cost in terms of wasted time and effort.’
Asked why requisition data for all conveyancers is not published, Pope says Land Registry has about 12,000 customers ‘but there’s quite a long tail of customers who only submit relatively few applications each year. It’s not impossible but it can be a bit unrepresentative. If they only submit two applications and one needs more information, that’s a 50% error rate’.
At the moment we know the register itself is not a digital register, it’s an electronic register and there is quite a lot of paper around the edges of it
Chris Pope, Land Registry
Land Registry has brought down the number of daily requisitions to about 3,500, which Pope puts down to the organisation working with its customers and having ‘productive’ conversations. ‘The next step in that journey is to provide an application system for our customers which prevents errors. When you’re still in a paper world, errors inevitably creep in.’
Digital technology is a central plank of the business strategy. Land Registry proudly boasted this month that its digital service, Sign Your Mortgage Deed, was building momentum after registering its 1,000th deed.
A new digital registration service will allow portal customers to submit 72 out of 104 applications types digitally.
But Pope knows there’s more to do: ‘At the moment we know the register itself is not a digital register, it’s an electronic register and there is quite a lot of paper around the edges of it.’
Pope says lessons are also being learnt from work to migrate local land charges information in England into a central digital database.
One only has to look at Gazette Online reader comments to see that Land Registry gets a lot of stick. However, Pope says: ‘We generally have an excellent relationship with our customers. Land Registry is held in significant regard in the conveyancing market as a trusted and professional organisation. There are things we can always improve – we know that from our customer satisfaction surveys and feedback. We know the pinch points and we’re responding to these and addressing them where we can.
‘The message is we’re doing what we can to address our historic lack of investment. It’s a hugely exciting time for us and the conveyancing sector more broadly. We really want to work with our customers and make things better.’