An online petition against the privatisation of the Land Registry now has around 225,000 signatures with just over a week to go before the official consultation closes.
The official consultation over the government’s proposal was launched on the Thursday evening before the four-day Easter Bank Holiday weekend - a fact much-criticised by opponents of the proposal.
Now an online petition has gathered around 225,000 signatures after it was posted by James Ferguson, managing director of X-Press Legal Services.
"Any private company that buys the Land Registry will be focussed on one thing. How can they best make a return on their £1 billion plus investment? A private company may be tempted to concentrate on more profitable non-registration services resulting in resources being diverted away from core registration services. Or they may increase the transaction fees for making changes to the register" Ferguson has told the media.
The Conveyancing Association has this week also come out against the privatisation.
It says says any assets realised by such a move would be negligible in terms of any attempt to pay down the UK’s deficit – an argument cited in favour of privatisation – which meant this approach would not work from a financial standpoint.
The CA says instead that a potential increase in fees, plus a reversal of the recent halving of fees for electronic registrations, would immediately double the Land Registry’s income yet would be “a relatively small burden for the home buyer in amongst the other costs and charges involved in the process.”
The association also says it is unsure that a privatised registry would maintain the current services offered, and how it would deliver innovation.
Land Registry privatisation has been on the cards for some time, and has earned sharp criticism from many bodies within the property industry.
Back in August 2014 it was reported that up to 15 per cent of jobs at Land Registry offices were at risk because of alleged over-capacity; some critics took this to be a way of changing the operations of the service to make private investment more attractive.
"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 to staff in summer 2014, after media speculation that the then-Business Secretary in the coalition government, Sir Vince Cable, had vetoed privatisation proposals.
A statement from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, accompanying the consultation document, says: “The preferred model being proposed is a privatisation of Land Registry consisting of a contract between government and a private operator, with all the core functions transferred out of the public sector, but with key safeguards for Land Registry customers and government being maintained.”
It goes on: “The sale of Land Registry will allow government to pay down debt, or enable other investment for the benefit of taxpayers. It is expected that a move into the private sector would also allow Land Registry to become even more efficient and effective as part of its transformation programme.”
The consultation closes next week, on May 26.