The HM Land Registry (LR) is an invaluable national resource: it was regularised in legislation in 1924 although the compilation work had started in 1850. The most recent legislation was enshrined in the Land Registration Act 2002 (q.v.) which sets out the new procedures for totally electronic operation and conveyancing. Today, it has become a major database which records the current ownership of nearly 98% of all residential property in England and Wales. Incidentally, there are separate Registries in Scotland and Northern Ireland but this facility for the State to, in effect, guarantee title is uniquely British.
The LR is a Government agency and entirely self-funding. Registration is compulsory when any of the remaining unregistered properties are sold or mortgaged. This means the remainder will be added as quickly as practical although 100% can never achieved as some of the unregistered titles will never come on the open market and some land has no known owner.
Not only does the Land Registry hold the full title information on some 20 million properties but it is fully computerised and open to public inspection. The information is available as a hard copy by post, or in electronic format down the line to anyone holding an account and the necessary access code. To the legal profession an LR title is proof of ownership and it comes with an unconditional guarantee due to the extremely high accuracy of the database. The inspection fee is nominal – currently just (pounds) 4 per item.
The information available includes a description of the full title with the title plan based on the Ordnance Survey data. All restrictive covenants, many easements, and all rights of way will be listed together with a full lease where the property is not freehold. From April 2000 the data will include the price paid the last time the property was sold.
The LR also has a full record of any legal charge registered against the property by a building society, bank or mortgage lender which has lent money or taken a second charge. The larger building societies used to hold many miles of property deeds in secure storage. These days deeds are effectively waste paper – all that matters to the institution is the title number on the single sheet Land Charge Certificate.