The government’s announcement in the Autumn Statement that it would be consulting on the privatisation of the Land Registry has raised concerns regarding the potential for fraud and manipulation of the data currently held at the Registry.
In its consultation paper, launched in April by Business Secretary Sajid Javid, the government argues that in order “to continue to deliver the standard of service its customers expect, the Land Registry needs to further modernise and digitise” its services in order to be more “accessible, quicker and more efficient.”
The Land Registry is responsible for the recording of ownership of all property in England and Wales.
The Open Data Institute (ODI), which was set up in 2012 to promote transparency and the accessibility of open data, has been very vocal in its criticism of the proposed privatisation of the Registry. The ODI argues that if the privatisation were to go ahead, not only would it mean that the data it stores would no longer be freely available, but as Jeni Tennison, technical director and deputy director of the ODI, explained to the FT, it also causes concerns “around what happens to the data that the Land Registry holds if it shifts from something we get for free to something we have to pay for.”
Of particular concern, according to Tennison, is the potential for fraud: “Can we trust the people maintaining that data not to change it?”
Property title fraud costs the Land Registry millions of pounds each year.
In 2015, a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Titlesolv revealed that a total of £23.3m worth of claims were received by the Land Registry in 2014, with almost £10m paid out in compensation.
The potential for privatisation to have longer-term implications on the economy and corruption in general have been picked up by number of critics of the proposals. In its draft response to the government’s consultation, the ODI notes that introducing a profit model would mean that the potential owner of the Registry would be forced to “maximise their own return rather than consider the impact on the economy as a whole.”
Furthermore, in a seminar on land and corruption held by the UK Land Forum, Geoffrey Payne, international advisor to the World Bank, stated that publicly-owned land registers were vital to ensuring “community trust and social stability”. In addition, Payne said that they were particularly significant in the fight against corruption; particularly in developing countries.
One of the most vocal opponents to the privatisation of the Registry is former Chief Land Registrar, John Manthorpe, who in an article in The Guardian described the government’s proposals as “misguided”. He went on to say that that: “Across the world, a trusted system of land registration is central to social stability and economic success.”
The closing date for responses to the consultation is 26 May.
Whilst the outcome of these latest attempts at privatisation are as yet unclear, the risk of fraudulent dealings with title can be managed using title insurance products offered by Titlesolv.