Government shelves Land Registry sell-off a second time

The Land Registry keeps the official record of commercial and residential land ownership in England and Wales [Image: Andy Rain/EPA].

The Land Registry keeps the official record of commercial and residential land ownership in England and Wales [Image: Andy Rain/EPA].

Vox Political has opposed plans to privatise the Land Registry both times it has been suggested by a Conservative-controlled government – and with good reason.

The Land Registry is one of the largest property databases in Europe, guaranteeing title to registered estates and interests in land, recording the ownership rights of freehold properties and leasehold properties where the lease has been granted for longer than seven years.

It is self-financing; its income generated by registration and search fees. You pay to access certain information.

Key among the organisation’s many functions are quasi-judicial decisions on ownership and transfers, granting title and, crucially, guaranteeing legal rights on behalf of the state. This is not just of fundamental importance to homeowners, but an essential feature of our economy. The backbone of the system is its freedom from outside influence and commercial interest – but privatisation would put the Land Registry entirely under threat of outside influence and dominated by commercial interest.

Also, according to a Guardian report the first time privatisation was suggested, back in 2014: “The agency is also currently bound by government policy on procurement, designed to assist small and medium-sized businesses to compete against the oligopoly of large suppliers. But BIS [The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills] has identified this as a problem, claiming greater flexibility in the private sector to buy goods and services. In a truly astonishing move, a government agency faces being changed into a commercial company so it can avoid the very controls the government brought in to protect small businesses.”

A survey by Survation for the campaign group We Own It when the idea of selling the Land Registry was revived last year showed 70 per cent of people wanted it to remain public.

The Conservatives have never explained what problem they were trying to fix by privatising the Land Registry, nor have they said what benefits would be gained by privatisation.

Controversial plans to sell off the Land Registry have been put on hold, while ministers review responses to the government’s consultation.

The Queen’s speech in May included an outline of a neighbourhood planning bill, which the government said would enable the privatisation of the Land Registry, which keeps records on property ownership in England and Wales.

However, that element does not appear in the bill set to go before parliament on Wednesday.

A government source said: “No decision has been taken on the future of the Land Registry. A consultation on the Land Registry’s future closed in May and we are carefully considering our response. It is only right that new ministers take time to look at all their options before making a decision.”

The proposed £1bn sale of the Land Registry, which was announced on the eve of the Easter break, has attracted criticism from a range of groups, including solicitors, media firms and the UK’s competition watchdog.

They warned that it could make it harder and more costly to access information, leading to a lack of transparency over property ownership. A petition against the plans has been signed by 317,930 people.

Source: Land Registry sell-off plan put on hold | Money | The Guardian


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