HM Land Registry recently issued updated guidance on the timeframes on when certain applications will be completed. It is not good news, but conveyancers will generally be unsurprised by the news.
Applications that used to take a matter of weeks are now often taking a matter of months, if not years. These huge delays in completing applications can lead to complications with later transactions and result in unwanted ramifications for applicants.
The Land Registry updated guidance is summarised as follows:
|(1) Routine ownership, mortgage and other changes to existing registered titles|
|Average: 10 to 30 days||Almost all: 60 to 80 days|
|(2) More complex changes to existing registered titles|
|Average: 80 to 100 days||Almost all: 150 to 185 days|
|(3) Registering purchases of plots on new developments|
|Average: 210 days||Almost all: 388 days|
|(4) Registering purchases of part of a registered property that is not a new development|
|Average: 202 days||Almost all: 448 days|
|(5) Registering a property for the first time|
|Average: 275 days||Almost all: 307 days|
What is causing the Land Registry delays?
The ‘registration gap’ has now been an ongoing issue for some years and is continuing to widen. The gap was not helped by the COVID-19 pandemic which contributed towards the long timescales. However, the problems started back in 2010 following Land Registry office closures and redundancies during that recession.
The Stamp Duty holiday and associated housing market boom also placed further pressure on the Land Registry, resulting in the current extreme delays.
The Deputy Chief Executive of the Land Registry, Mike Harlow, issued the first Land Registry blog of the year on 5 January 2023. He highlighted that avoidable errors in applications to register property transactions was one of the main obstacles the Land Registry face in delivering quicker results. The blog confirmed that just over 1 in 5 applications are being processed first time and that Land Registry staff have to send around 1 million requisitions a year. In 2022, it was reported that over half of these requisitions could have been avoided and consisted of, for example, variations in names within an application, missing or incomplete information, missing pages etc. The Deputy Chief Executive pleaded that everyone submitting applications makes sure that they are free of avoidable errors when lodging applications to make the process faster.
Further delays ahead?
Looking ahead, unfortunately there may be further issues before the situation is solved. Staff at the Land Registry are planning to go on strike next month over pay, pension and job security. The Public and Commercial Services Union has agreed to a one-day strike on 1 February. This has come due to the fact that the Land Registry passed the 50% turnout threshold. Although only for one day (for now), the strike will certainly not help the already ongoing delays.
The impact on applicants and how to overcome this
The delays in completing registrations are inconvenient firstly because applicants are not receiving up to date official copies of the title within a timely manner to reflect the transactions that have completed, whether that be applications reflecting purchases and new ownership, registering a property for the first time or reflecting a new mortgage.
This can then lead to further knock on delays. For example, we are seeing that applicants are having issues when they are being asked to prove their ownership when later trying to sell on or rent out the property because agents cannot determine ownership at the Land Registry. Refinancing mortgages with borrowers can also potentially be disrupted.
However, the current issues with the registration gap should not prevent further transactions from proceeding and an applicant does not have to wait for one application to complete before moving forward. When delays in registration would either (1) cause problems not related to a land transaction or (2) put a property sale or any kind of property transaction at risk, for example, a refinancing deal or development, an application to expedite can be made to the Land Registry. This applies for both residential and commercial properties. If such a request is approved by the Land Registry then the original application should be processed within 10 working days, subject to any outstanding requisitions that need to be completed first. However in our experience the Land Registry are actually completing such applications much more quickly, sometimes the same day.
This should give some comfort to applicants who have projects, future transactions or business deals planned but are awaiting completions at the Land Registry.
In April 2021 the Land Registry launched the ‘Digital Registration Service’, which became mandatory for the majority of applications on 30 November 2022. This was introduced in an attempt to reduce process times and may assist in reducing the delays in completing applications. The Land Registry has confirmed that they are seeing results of this and that their output has increased for the past two years. For applicants, only time will tell as to whether the delays will ease in the coming year but with the updated guidance, applicants will need to be realistic in relation to the timeframes.
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