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Government planning for Land Registry sell-off before consultation-end

  • 06/05/2014
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Government planning for Land Registry sell-off before consultation-end
Senior civil servants are preparing the Land Registry for privatisation, well before the results of the consultation on its future is published.

A consultation on the proposed changes ended in March but documents seen by The Guardian show those inside the organisation are already preparing for a sell-off.

Documents show figures inside the Land Registry are preparing for the organisation to be run as a joint venture with a private company or as a fully privatised “government company”.

Privatisation is likely to raise more than £1bn for the government but would give private companies influence in the granting of land rights and ability to adjudicate on conflicts over land in England and Wales.

Following a sell-off the government would create an Office of the Chief Land Registrar as some functions hold statutory power and would be unable to transfer to the private sector.

A consultation on the Land Registry’s future closed in March and the findings have yet to be published. Business minister Michael Fallon said on April 9 that ‘no decisions will be taken until all responses have been considered’ but John Manthorpe, a former chief land registrar, told The Guardian the board appeared to be preparing for privatisation regardless of the outcome.

“Appointing a company secretary gives the game away that the consultation may be a sham,” he said. “I am not aware of any government department having a company secretary. The registry board are thinking in company terms already.

“It is clear that the management board, which has negligible experience and understanding of land registration and its important role, are solely fixed on the privatisation of this important state asset without any regard to the practical, financial or legal consequences for the citizen and business.”

Staff at the Land Registry plan to strike on May 14 and 15 over the privatisation plans and the PCS union said the changes would drive up the cost of house purchase.

“The privatisation proposals are a real threat to the government guarantee of title, will drive up the cost of house buying, force small, local high-street solicitors out of business and threatens the stability of the housing market.

“LR underpins the guarantee of title of £3trn of property, and its registers are part of the critical national infrastructure. As a government trading fund, it is self-funding, doesn’t cost taxpayers a penny and has returned money to the Treasury in 19 of the last 20 years – £98m in 2013, while continuing to reduce its fees. LR has a customer satisfaction rating of over 98%. It has also been able to reduce registration fees as a result of its success.

“The Land Registry is a highly-respected and trusted institution. It is profitable. Yet the coalition government believes it would be better value for money if it were privatised.”

The Council of Mortgage Lenders has previously warned changes to Land Registry powers could jeopardise services to lenders.

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