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109: Privatisation of the Land Registry may be off the cards

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109: Privatisation of the Land Registry may be off the cards
Leave your thoughts Jennifer Chappell

By Jennifer Chappell

One of the only good things that may come out of the EU referendum result is that the government is having second thoughts about privatising the Land Registry.

The government, now faced with more pressing issues, has responded to the tide of criticism from the industry about options for privatisation of the Land Registry and confirmed:

‘We have heard the concerns loud and clear’

A debate in the Commons last week was initiated by Labour MP David Lammy, who accused the government of:

‘Looking to sell off the family silver to turn a short-term profit, to try and make their sums add up’

The consultation on privatisation, which closed in May, was met with disdain by all who responded. It looks likely to end with the same result as before, when proposals to sell the Land Registry were ditched in 2014 due to concerns about conflicts of interest and maintaining the register’s integrity.

It’s difficult to see how the Land Registry could remain truly impartial if run by a private company. The latest consultation assured us that controls and safeguards would be put in place to maintain standards, but ultimately a private company would have its own economic agenda. The consultation alluded to this, stating that:

‘There is the potential to expand the range of services it offers on a commercial basis’ through ‘analysis and exploitation of data’

For anyone owning property in England and Wales, there is also an inherent trust in the Land Registry’s state-backed guarantee of the information held on the register. We rely on the ‘state guarantee’ assuring us that when you deal with property registered at the Land Registry, the owner does in fact own the land and can legally deal with it.

During the Commons debate, Lammy stated:

‘Far from being a basket case of public sector inefficiency, it is a shining example of a successful public service being run efficiently and effectively. I must state in the clearest possible terms that privatising it would be daylight robbery and a national scandal.’

Whilst this may not always be the case in terms of some of the clunkiness and inefficiencies experienced by practitioners, the Land Registry is clearly better left alone as a public function. A bit like the sentiments currently being experienced over Brexit, we must accept that we don’t always know what we’ve got until it’s gone. And the Land Registry is hopefully going nowhere.

5 July 2016

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