The possibility of the Land Registry being amongst £4.6 billion of public assets earmarked for privatisation has provoked protests across the property industry.
A bid to privatise the Registry last year was vetoed by the Business Secretary in the then-coalition government, Sir Vince Cable. However, documents released at the end of the Autumn Statement this week confirmed earlier speculation that the issue was once again being considered by Chancellor George Osborne.
Some reports say the Rothschild investment bank has been asked to consider options for a sale of the Registry, which has had a monopoly on recording land and property information in England and Wales since 1862. One report says the Land Registry, which currently employs some 4,500 people, could be worth around £1.2 billion.
In early 2014 there was substantial criticism from within the property industry of activities at the Land Registry, which some interpreted as preparations for privatisation.
In August 2014 Estate Agent Today reported that up to 15 per cent of jobs at Land Registry offices were at risk because of alleged over-capacity. "Over the next couple of years we estimate that the efficiencies we will deliver will create the capacity to free up approximately 15 per cent of the workforce. That capacity may result in people being redeployed .... but it may also mean some staff reductions" said an email sent to staff in the summer of 2014, shortly after the ‘Cable veto’ was used.
The trade body the Council of Property Search Organisations has been particularly critical of possible Registry privatisation; some 18 months ago, CoPSO was heavily involved in criticisng the Land Registry’s bid to become the sole authority for local land charges.
More than a million local land charge searches are undertaken annually by conveyancers as part of residential and commercial property transactions and remortgaging.
The resuscitation of possible privatisation has prompted opposition from Andrew Lloyd of the Search Acumen company.
“Any move to privatise Land Registry operations must not be allowed to put barriers in the way of access to property and land data” he insists.
“This year’s Infrastructure Act set the wheels in motion for Land Registry to improve data access, standardise fees, achieve better turnaround times and explore new services to benefit conveyancing and the wider property sector. This mission should be applauded, and must not be compromised by the desire to make a short-term profit” he warns.