The Law Commission has unveiled proposals that it claims could stop property fraudsters in theirb tracks and improve conveyancing at the same time.
The Commission, an independent body, claims that HM Land Registry has had to fork out almost £60m over the past decade in indemnity payments because of fraud, which could have been avoided - or at least minimised - by its proposals.
Central to the measures is the objective to have effective land registration law which minimises disputes and uncertainty as to the accuracy of a register.
The Law Commission says 85 per cent of land in England and Wales is now registered, amounting to 25 million titles; the remaining 15 per cent will be registered at the latest the next time it is sold or otherwise transferred.
But the Commission insists that a long-term increase in incidents of fraud relating to registered land, changes to the way mortgages and properties are transacted since the downturn in 2008, and the advent of rapidly-changing new technology means the register requires further updating.
Its proposals include:
- enabling HM Land Registry to set steps that conveyancers must undertake to verify the identity of their clients;
- imposing a duty of care on conveyancers with respect to identity checks, based on directions issued by the Registry;
- ensuring a right of recourse against any conveyancer failing to meet their obligations on identity checks to recover sums paid by the Registry for loss caused by fraud;
- preventing the register from being changed once a mistake has been on the register for 10 years;
- requiring evidence of interests that people want to protect with a unilateral notice at an earlier stage, to preventing disputes at a tribunal;
- creating a new power to introduce electronic conveyancing that does not require completion and registration to happen simultaneously;
- beefing up the powers of Land Registration Division of the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) including an express statutory power to determine where a boundary lies, so that parties do not have to re-litigate the same issue;
- bringing mines and minerals onto the register.
“The Land Registration Act was a huge leap forward in land ownership, but 15 years on it needs to be refreshed to adapt it to the modern world and make things as efficient as possible” explains Law Commissioner Professor Nick Hopkins.
“We’re recommending some technical reforms which will iron out the kinks, help prevent fraud and make conveyancing faster, easier and cheaper for everyone.”
The Commission has drawn up a draft Bill for the measures ahead of a campaign.