Sarah Witheridge, Partner & Head of WBW Property Department explains:

We often come across farm or land which has been owned by one family for generations. Often, the legal title to the land is unregistered and time ticks on with no particular cause for concern so why register title at the Land Registry?

So what is the difference between registered and unregistered land?
Unregistered land is land which is not registered with HM Land Registry. In these circumstances, the owners of the land would need to prove their ownership by producing historical title deeds if they wanted to deal with the property in any way. The deeds might be with the owner, the mortgage lender, the owner’s solicitor or sometimes be lost!

Registered land is land that has been registered at HM Land Registry. The Land Registry check the ownership and title to the land by checking the historic title deeds when it is first registered, or recorded, with them. Once registered, each parcel of land will have its own unique title, reference and plan. The Land Registry manages and controls the title information electronically, it is stored securely and it is easily accessible.

What are the advantages?
Clear ownership
Once the land is registered, there is clear proof of ownership. It can make buying and selling land easier and cheaper – the key information is easy to access and in one place.

When a family has owned land for a long time, there is often a belief that the title to the land is straightforward but often we find that things are a little more complex than first thought! We all know land that has been swopped between adjoining farmers or where non-standard purchases happen. Recently we had a field where the field was transferred from one family to another between the Wars in exchange for half a pig and a sack of potatoes. By registering title, we can ensure that there is a clear record of the ownership. It also means that we are able to resolve any title queries whilst those that have managed the land at the key times are still around before crucial facts get lost in the mists of time.

Protection against `squatters’ claims
A registered landowner is much better protected against a claim for `squatters’ rights. It is possible for a third party to claim title to the land by `squatting’, often without the landowner’s knowledge over time. This can result in farmers losing ownership of some of their unregistered land. However, once the title is registered, the Land Registry will notify the landowner if a neighbour or third party tries to register an interest against a registered title.

Guaranteed title – overcoming lost deeds
It is surprisingly common for unregistered deeds to be lost or damaged. The Land Registry will consider registering a title of property in these circumstances if proof of ownership can be supplied. It can take a little time to put the evidence needed together but it does mean that future time delays could be avoided,

Encroaching neighbours
Registration is an ideal opportunity to resolve any problems with rights of way or encroachment by neighbours. Issues often come to light when papers for a sale or gift are prepared. For example, land that has been occupied may have no legal title available, land exchanges may not have been formally documented or rights of way or sporting rights not adequately recorded. These problems can usually be overcome on a first registration, leaving a straightforward title for any future owner.

Clear mapping
The Land Registry will also map the land on modern OS maps – this is a great advantage when dealing with the land in the future. The alternative is to rely on the old OS numbers or aged hand-drawn plans where boundaries or the true extent of the land owned by the landowner is unclear. It also means that there is a clear record of who owns and is responsible for all those little verges and visibility splays that can cause problems in terms of upkeep responsibility, public liability or are sometimes vital to development.

Minimise future costs
A registered title is clearly documented so you can avoid relying on deeds that are old, fragile or sometimes unreadable. The legal costs when dealing with unregistered titles can also be greater as it is more complex and time consuming to review and interpret old deeds.

For more articles from our Farms and Estates team also see our ‘Need to Know’ Newsletter