A property specialist has advised landowners on the best ways to protect themselves against property fraud after figures revealed around 25% of land in England and Wales remains unregistered.
Residential property expert Lucy Beaumont has warned that land remaining unregistered requires the original paper deeds and documents to evidence ownership, and has little safeguards available, increasing the risk of fraud during sales.
Mrs Beaumont, a Licensed Conveyancer in the Residential Property Division at Shropshire law firm mfg Solicitors, said: “Deeds can be easily lost or destroyed making proof of ownership difficult to establish with no record of ownership being held centrally. In addition, as there is no record of ownership held, it is easier for applications to be made against a title without the owner’s knowledge or consent.
“Many don’t realise this makes the risk of property fraud much higher.”
The Land Registration system was introduced to modernise the private system of ownership by creating an electronic register, with the Land Registry providing an additional guarantee for titles.
Whilst compulsory registration can be ‘triggered’ by an event such as selling land or property, she has urged people to register their property and land voluntarily to identify and resolve any potential issues.
Mrs Beaumont said that registering land voluntarily attracts a lower registration fee compared with a compulsory registration, with a 25% discount offered by the Land Registry.
She added: “Unregistered land requires the selling solicitor to firstly check the deeds to ensure all necessary deeds and documents are available and secondly, review the deeds to ensure the necessary legal rights benefit the property and there are no adverse entries affecting the property.
“If certain deeds are missing or necessary rights are not granted, this can cause problems and legal issues that were not known about in advance. There are usually higher legal fees involved when land is unregistered due to the additional work required to check and compile the deeds.
“People can better protect themselves from property fraud by registering property and land as there are ways to set up alerts should any application be submitted against your title. Registering land also reduces the risk of ‘squatters rights’ whereby squatters can adversely acquire land and property if they have continuously occupied the same for twelve years.
“It is beneficial to register your property prior to a triggering event, such as a sale, to identify and resolve any problems or issues there may be with a title rather than causing delays or legal issues at the time of sale - while also reducing the risk of property fraud and adverse possession claims.”