No call for Privatisation of the Land Registry

The campaign team (Representatives from PCS, FDA union, 38 Degrees, Search Agents, Law Firms and Legend John Manthorpe (Former Chief Land Registrar) travelled to London on Wednesday to meet with MPs for a briefing before a debate led by MP David Lammy which  took place on Thursday. We had a really great meeting –  we all presented our concerns and we were pleased to see that they were taken up and used in many of yesterday’s speeches. The debate which lasted for two hours was very good indeed! Not one supporting view from any side of the house in favour of a privatised Land Registry! We now await news on an official announcement, but I can’t help feeling optimistic – there is certainly a glimmer of hope, but we are not going to stop just yet.

We are so thankful to everyone who has signed and shared the petition and to the many people from all over the country who have written to their MP’s. It was clear that lots of you did judging by the responses that the MPs gave during the debate.  It just goes to show what can be achieved when we pull together. #peoplepower

For the second time: Representatives of the stakeholders group will be handing in another 38 Degrees Petition, this year with more than 225,000 signatures, to Business Secretary The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP on Thursday 26th May at 2.30pm at the offices of Business, Innovation and Skill, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0E.

The number of signatures increased from 225,000 to 287,585 within 24 hours before the petition was handed in.

The ministers’ comments are all here as recorded in Hansard if you would like to read them. To help us keep the conversation alive, please let me know if you have any feed-back or have any comments you wish to make on the debate.

The Law Society Gazette on Friday reported the Government may be having second thoughts. Such good news!! But it is still too early to give up . The campaign will keep going until the plans have been scrapped once and for all.

The Guardian has since reported that the decision on privatisation will probably ‘land’ in the lap of the new Government.   We will be ready and waiting!

Onwards and upwards!

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Cornish Firms Lead the Fight against Sell-off of Family Silver

Joy travelled to London last Wednesday with James Ferguson from Xpress Legal Services to meet with MPs to put foward the reasons why the Land Registry should not be privatised, before a debate in Parliament took place on Thursday. The debate was led by backbench MP David Lammy after more than 60 MPs signed a letter demanding the plans to privatise the Land Registry be called off.

Joy Bassett and James Ferguson have been leading the campaign from down here in Cornwall since the government proposed the plans in 2014.

Joy was instrumental in bringing the other stakeholders together believing that it is better to have a united front. Each stakeholder group had its own reasons for wanting the Land Registry to stay in the public sector, but they all share a common concern that the role and function of the Land Regsitry in registering title and guaranteeing land rights must remain impartial and independent from any commercial interests. Joy invited the stakeholders to come together to take part in what became the campaign video to help raise awareness.

We didn’t feel enough had been done by the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills to bring the sell-off of this significant asset to the public’s attention. Until we brought it to people’s attention, they knew nothing about the plans, but when they did find out, they are outraged!

James started the first 38Degrees Petition which was handed in to the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) in May 2014 with more than 104,000 signatures. He then set up a second petition in March 2016 following the announcement that BIS had launched a new public consultation on privatising the Land Registry. This time, the consultation question wasn’t ‘should the Land Registry be privatised’ but, ‘how should it be done’!

38 Degrees hand-in 2016

Hand -In of 38 Degrees Petition 26th May 2016.

The response from the public was overwhelming! James and Joy travelled up to London to join the rest of the campaign team in on 26th May to deliver the second petition to Business Secretary Sajid Javid, this time with a whooping 287,585 signatories!

The response from the public has been one of outrage.

On the train up to London on the day of the Hand-In, Joy took the opportunity to give leaflets to passengers with postcards for them to sign addressed to the Business Secretary expressing their concern and asking him to scrap the plans.  The usual response was one of shock! The majority of people she spoke to had not heard about the plans and they were angry and concerned enough to sign the postcard straight away and hand it back to her to deliver to the Business Secretary’s office.

Postcards to Business Secretary Javid Javid

Postcards to Business Secretary Javid Javid

Trish Murrary from 38 Degrees invited signatories of the petition to respond to the consultation via an easy to use link. Most public consultations might attract 200 -300 submissions, this one had already received 450! But thanks to Trish, in the 24 hours before the consultation closed, more than 28,000 people submitted a response and a further 65,000 people signed the petition!

The petition which is still open, now stands at over 303,000 signatures. Contrary to the government’s view as stated in the 2016 consultation document, that there is no compelling case for keeping the Land Registry in public ownership.  The results of the first consultation in 2014 showed only 5% of the responses agreed, while 95% disagreed with the plans.

Stakeholders give their reasons why the Land Registry shouldn’t be privatised:

The PCS Union: Michael Kavanagh, the President of the Land Registry branch of the PCS Union says, “Land registration must remain an impartial and trusted role of the state, free from commercial exploitation and conflict of interest. Privatisation would inevitably lead to increased fees for the public if the motive shifted from the public services to profit.

Our dedicated members spend a large amount of time rectifying historical errors, investigating disputes and preventing property fraud. This work would undoubtedly suffer if privatisation were to occur.”

Local Authorities: The proposals for the Land Registry to take over parts of a Local Authority search are causing concern for Local Land Charges Officers and the private search agents. The takeover of the Local Land Charges function by Land Registry would lead to a more fragmented, more costly and less reliable service than that which already exists and would result in a poorer service for the property-buying public and the businesses that assist them.

The Search Agents: IPSA, the trade body for Independent Search Agents are also concerned that by the Land Registry providing the searches, there will be no competition and the cost of searches to the home buyer will rise.

The Lawyers: Many conveyancing solicitors have raised concerns about the proposals on behalf of their clients. President of the Law Society Jonathan Smithers said, “Privatisation of the Land Registry would mark a significant change to a vital piece of our nation’s infrastructure. The ability of any owner or company to have certainty about the ownership and status of land is central to the way our economy functions”.

Homeowners: Denise Watts from Lostwithiel in Cornwall says, “It’s not theirs to sell! It’s all about security and protection of our data. Selling the Land Registry is like selling off another piece of family silver, except the information the Land Registry hold about us, our title deeds, our mortgage deeds, makes it a piece of silver with our names engraved on it!”

Many others have also voiced their concerns. The British Property Federation (BPF), the competition watchdog (CMA), Open Data Institute (ODI) and the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) the FDA union, they have all voiced a number of concerns, some of which are:

  • Land Registry data becomes a profit making product rather than being easily accessible to the public
  • Conflict of interest
  • Anti-competitive
  • As a private company they would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act
  • Corruption
  • Privatisation would cost the taxpayer money – need for regulation
  • High Street law firms could once again be excluded from the property market

James Ferguson is the Director of Xpress Legal Services, a property search company that provides conveyancers with the necessary searches needed when buying a property. He is concerned that a privatised Land Registry would become a one stop shop, restricting competition by having the monopoly on all property related data,

Our firm is concerned that should the plans go ahead, the future of high street law firms are further under threat. Lots of SME law firms closed after the lenders removed scores of firms from their conveyancing panels during 2012 – 2014. That has a knock on effect on the consumer, because when a firm closes down, it’s not just the local conveyancing that disappears, but access to all the other areas of law a firm could offer. With access to justice already an issue, people struggle these days to find affordable legal services local to where they live.

Former Chief Land Registrar John Manthorpe says “The Land Registry is self-funding, operating at no cost to the public purse. It has an excellent record of holding and reducing its costs and its fees to customers. It pays an annual dividend to the Exchequer. It is highly regarded by those who depend on it as a provider of trusted, prompt services. It is difficult to see how security of tenure and a functioning property and mortgage market in this country could be sustained without Her Majesty’s Land Registry, as a public department of government, continuing to provide the impartial and quasi-judicial title guarantees on which the workings of the economy rely.”

He has repeatedly warned “this is not an activity that any responsible Government can pass to the private sector.”  He is concerned that the authors of the consultation document have not understood the adjudicatory nature of the Registry’s work on registering title, guaranteeing land rights and guaranteeing too pre-contract and pre-completion search results. Such results, which are backed by indemnity, make possible the millions of transactions in land rights on which the property market depends.

The Times reported on the 26th May that all bidders in the Land Registry have links to tax havens. MP David Lammy points out, “This privatisation would be a huge step backwards in tackling the large-scale institutional corruption and tax avoidance brought to light by the Panama Papers.”

Short-term economic plan.

With so many valid reasons as to why the Land Registry should not be privatised, the one main reason driving the plan ahead is because the Chancellor so desperately needs the money to reduce the deficit.   PCS General Secretary, Mark Serwotka, describes the sell off as being “deeply dangerous” and says that the proposal is based on a political choice, not economic necessity. It is being driven by the Treasury’s demand for cuts and short-term returns and is neither required nor being requested by anyone who works in the industry.

‘We Own It‘, a campaign group for keeping public services public, run for people not profit, have published a report which states, “Selling off the UK public assets such as the Land Registry will leave the government’s finances worse off in the long-term as cash from the sale is outstripped by future profits”.

Campaign timeline of events so far:

2nd July 2014 38 Degrees petition with more than 104,000 signatures, started by James                                Ferguson on behalf of the campaign, was handed into the Department for                                Business Innovation and Skills.

11th July 2014 Vince Cable, the then Business Secretary announced the plans to privatise                                 the Land Registry had been abandoned.

25th Nov 2015  A second 38 Degrees petition was launched after George Osborne asked                                   investment bank Rothschild to report on the options for selling the Land                                 Registry.

26th May 2016 A second Petition handed into Department of Business Innovation and                                     Skills with more than 287,000 signatures saying NO to the plans to                                           privatise.

26th May 2016 The Times reported that every investment firm interested in bidding for                                    the Land Registry had links to tax havens.

26th May 2016 Public Consultation closed with more than 28,000 submissions.

14th June 2016 More than 60 MPs signed a letter written by MP David Lammy calling for                                a debate.

30th June 2016 A debate led by MP David Lammy  in the House of                                                                         Commons.

1st July 2016   Following the debate, the headlines read; “Business minister George                                         Freeman suggests proposal is now a matter for new administration to                                        resolve, with MPs strongly against privatisation”

The campaign goes on until the plans are scrapped once and for all. 

Letters to MPs are still being written.

MPs and the media have asked Business Secretary Sajid Javid on numerous occasions for a response. He has consistently replied with “No decision will be made until after the consultations have been reviewed.”

We have two questions for Sajid Javid:

  1. How much opposition will it take for the plans to be scrapped once and for all?
  2. What did the Rothschild’s report to HM Treasury say?
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Should the Land Registry be Privatised? 

NO say all of us!!

That is the message being delivered to Business Secretary Sajid Javid on Thursday 26th May, that all 280,000 signatories are against the government’s plans to privatise the Land Registry.

For a second time in two years campaigners are handing in a 38 Degrees Petition to the Business Secretary in opposition to the government’s plans to privatise the Land Registry. The Hand-In is taking place on Thursday 26th May at 2.30 pm outside the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills.

Contrary to the government’s view as stated in the consultation document, that there is no compelling case for keeping the Land Registry in public ownership, at the last consultation only 5% of the responses agreed, while 95% disagreed with the plans. The opinion today amongst the stakeholders remains the same. No No No!

They each give their reasons why the Land Registry shouldn’t be privatised:

The PCS Union: Michael Kavanagh, the President of the Land Registry branch of the PCS Union says,

“Land registration must remain an impartial and trusted role of the state, free from commercial exploitation and conflict of interest. Privatisation would inevitably lead to increased fees for the public if the motive shifted from the public services to profit.

Our dedicated members spend a large amount of time rectifying historical errors, investigating disputes and preventing property fraud. This work would undoubtedly suffer if privatisation were to occur.”

Local Authorities: The proposals for the Land Registry to take over parts of a Local Authority search are causing concern for Local Land Charges Officers and the private search agents. The takeover of the Local Land Charges function by Land Registry would lead to a more fragmented, more costly and less reliable service than that which already exists and would result in a poorer service for the property-buying public and the businesses that assist them.

The Search Agents: IPSA, the trade body for Independent Search Agents are also concerned that by the Land Registry providing the searches, there will be no competition and the cost of searches to the home buyer will rise.

The Lawyers: Many conveyancing solicitors have raised concerns about the proposals on behalf of their clients. President of the Law Society Jonathan Smithers said,

“Privatisation of the Land Registry would mark a significant change to a vital piece of our nation’s infrastructure. The ability of any owner or company to have certainty about the ownership and status of land is central to the way our economy functions”.

Homeowners: Denise Watts from Lostwithiel in Cornwall says,

“It’s not theirs to sell! It’s all about security and protection of our data. Selling the Land Registry is like selling off another piece of family silver, except the information the Land Registry hold about us, our title deeds, our mortgage deeds, makes it a piece of silver with our names engraved on it!”

Former Chief Land Registrar John Manthorpe says:

“The Land Registry is self-funding, operating at no cost to the public purse. It has an excellent record of holding and reducing its costs and its fees to customers. It pays an annual dividend to the Exchequer. It is highly regarded by those who depend on it as a provider of trusted, prompt services.

It is difficult to see how security of tenure and a functioning property and mortgage market in this country could be sustained without Her Majesty’s Land Registry, as a public department of government, continuing to provide the impartial and quasi-judicial title guarantees on which the workings of the economy rely.”

The Land Registry is responsible for ensuring that conveyances, transfers, mortgages etc, are properly executed and legally effective. John Manthorpe has repeatedly warned this is not an activity that any responsible Government can pass to the private sector.

He goes on to say, “The Land Registry is not merely a passive recording authority. Nor is it merely a data provider.  It does seem that the authors of the consultation document have not understood the adjudicatory nature of the Registry’s work on registering title, guaranteeing land rights and guaranteeing too pre-contract and pre-completion search results. Such results, which are backed by indemnity, make possible the millions of transactions in land rights on which the property market depends”.

At the end of the day it comes down to the money. With so many valid reasons as to why the Land Registry should not be privatised, the one reason why the Chancellor is so intent on the sale is because he so desperately needs the money to reduce the deficit. PCS General Secretary, Mark Serwotka, describes the sell off as being “deeply dangerous” and says that the proposal is based on a political choice, not economic necessity. It is being driven by the Treasury’s demand for cuts and short-term returns and is neither required nor being requested by anyone who works in the industry.

‘We Own It’, a campaign group for keeping public services public, run for people not profit, have published a report this week which refers to the sale of the Land Registry. It states,

“Selling off the UK public assets such as the Land Registry will leave the government’s finances worse off in the long-term as cash from the sale is outstripped by future profits”.

In addition to the sell-off of the Land Registry, the government is intending another £5billion of public assets to be sold before 2020.

During the 80s, under Chancellors Geffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson they sold off around £56billion of public assets. The current Chancellor George Osborne in 6 years, will have sold off £58billion.

Once an asset is sold, the Treasury loses the revenue it once made from it. In the Land Registry’s case, that would be a loss of £100million a year. Can we really afford to sell it?! 280,000 of us think not!

The First Time: Representatives of the stakeholder groups handed in to the then Business Secretary Vince Cable a 38 Degrees petition with104,888 signatures outside the offices of Business Innovation & Skills 2014.The proposed plans were later scrapped.

The First Time: Representatives of the stakeholder groups handed in to the then Business Secretary Vince Cable a 38 Degrees petition with104,888 signatures outside the offices of Business Innovation & Skills 2014.The proposed plans were later scrapped.

For the second time: Representatives of the stakeholders group will be handing in another 38 Degrees Petition, this year with more than 225,000 signatures, to Business Secretary The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP on Thursday 26th May at 2.30pm at the offices of Business, Innovation and Skill, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0E.

For the second time: Representatives of the stakeholders group will be handing in another 38 Degrees Petition, this year with more than 225,000 signatures, to Business Secretary The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP on Thursday 26th May at 2.30pm at the offices of Business, Innovation and Skill, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0E.

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Why we are saying NO to the privatisation of the Land Registry

As a law firm that does conveyancing, we really appreciate the efficiency of the Land Registry. In addition to being one of the most efficient government departments, we have always been impressed at how they have managed year on year to reduce their fees.

Land Registry stats

In their wisdom the government last year put forward two proposals that would prepare the Land Registry for sale in the future.

Due to overwhelming opposition to the plans the then Minister for Business Vince Cable scrapped the plans. While we celebrated the success of that victory, we knew it was only a temporary reprieve. We fully expected the privatisation of the Land Registry to be back on the agenda if the Conservative Party won the election.

In the meantime, however, plans were set in action to give the Land Registry wider powers enabling them to become providers of Local Authority Searches. This required a change in legislation.
If you looked really hard you would have found the request for this change in amongst the Infrastructure Bill along with Fracking that was included in last year’s’ Queens Speech!

Before the Bill was passed in March of this year, changes were already taking place within the Land Registry as if it was a fait accompli
We made comment about that at the time.
https://apbassettsolicitors.wordpress.com/…/land-registry-…/

Since then, other changes have been put in place that have actually been detrimental to the quality of service being delivered by the Land Registry. For most services it still remains pretty impressive, but for First Registrations and in particular, Transfers of Part, we are experiencing delays of up towards 6 months! Click here to see what Today’s Conveyancer wrote about it earlier this month.

Is this a taste of things to come when the Land Registry comes under new management?

We don’t want to take the risk of finding out nor do we want the information it holds about the property our clients own – their data – to ever be in the hands of a commercial entity.

That’s why we are standing with the PCS Union, the Property Search Agents, the Legal Profession and Property Owners in this campaign to STOP the privatisation of the Land Registry.

We hope you will join us. https://apbassettsolicitors.wordpress.co

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Save The Land Registry Campaign

Help us STOP the Land Registry from being Privatised!

Last year the proposed plans for the Land Registry were scrapped after a high-profile national campaign involving all the key stakeholders; the PCS union, Property Search Agents, Conveyancers, High Street law firms and Members of the Public worked collaboratively to oppose the plans.

A petition with over 100,000 signatures was delivered to the Department of BIS by Rebecca Falcone from 38 Degrees.

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We knew it would only be a matter of time….

Sure as eggs…. the government has asked investment bank Rothschild to look at the options for a £1bn plus sale and wrote in the Autumn Statement of its intention to ‘consult on options to move operations of the Land Registry to the private sector from 2017.

Why are we making such a fuss? Because the Land Registry:

  • Is responsible for ensuring that conveyances, transfers and mortgages, are properly executed and legally effective,
  • Keeps the register of the ownership of land and property in England and Wales
  • Provides owners with a land title that is underpinned by the state
  • Pays millions into the Treasury each year and costs the tax payer nothing!

Land Charge and Conveyance

An important role of the Land Registry is to underpin the ownership of the property YOU own, providing YOU with a state backed guarantee to title.

Don’t take our word for it, you can click here and the Land Registry will tell you what they do and you can decide for yourself – should they be privatised?

We think not! Nether does the former Chief Land Registrar John Manthorpe! He said last year, “The role of the Land Registry “is not an activity that any responsible Government can pass to the private sector.”

If you want to see the Land Registry kept under the control of the state and not be privatised you can:

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Land Registry Counting Chickens

The Executive Board of the Land Registry anticipate that they will be taking on the Local Land Charges Searches. They are assuming that the ‘Wider Powers’ contained within the Infrastructure Bill will pass successfully through Parliament. Don’t count your chickens too soon! The Bill faces growing opposition as more members of the public, MPs, and Peers become aware of what is at stake!

Land Registry counting chickens before they hatch

Land Registry counting chickens before they hatch.

The Conservatives are committed to their ideology of a small state and it seems to us, that they are using the Government’s digital strategy to achieve their aims. In particular Local Government departments are suffering as a result of cuts, so much so, they are struggling to function or be fit for purpose. This is now being felt by the property market as Local Land Charges are being criticised by Estate Agents for causing sales to fall through and mortgage offers are being timed out by the length of time it now takes for a Local Authority search. Property Industry Eye report in their news that searches are taking 6 – 10 weeks in some areas!

We know that centralising services by digitalisation makes a lot of sense, but at what cost? Who is keeping an eye on getting the balance right? At what stage does the digital strategy begin to work against us?

Here are the reasons we need your support to stop the bill from going through in it’s present form:

  1. A lot of specialist and experienced staff stand to lose their jobs from Local Land Charges Departments.
  2. The ‘Wider Powers’, as rightly highlighted by Christian Lister, (Chairman IPSA), in an earlier post, still need greater scrutiny as the proposals do very little to improve the data provision of a local search which is required by mortgage lenders to assess risk on a property or land.
  3. The ‘Wider Powers’ will give the Land Registry the monopoly over the provision of property related searches. If the Land Registry were to stay in the public sector, that wouldn’t be so bad because so far they have been brilliant at reducing their fees year on year. BUT DON’T COUNT ON IT! We fear the ‘Wider Powers’ will pave the way for the future privatisation of the Land Registry.

Lets keep up the pressure! A really great way of doing that is to sign & share the 38 Degrees petition.

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Should the Land Registry be Privatised?

NO say all of us! The 38 Degrees #savelandreg petition with over 104,000 signatures was handed into the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on Wednesday 2nd July.

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The petition was handed in by the lovely Rebecca Falcon of 38 Degrees and received by Shadow Minister Toby Perkins.

 

 

Unfortunately neither Vince Cable nor Michael Fallon were available to receive the petition addressed to their departments but we had great support from John McDonnell MP, Toby Perkins MP and Roberta Blackman-Woods MP.

Members of the public, property search agents, solicitors, union members and 38 degrees were all in attendance.

James Ferguson who started the 38 degrees petition says,

 “We will be issuing information on how to write to your MP and Ministers to demand they scrap both these proposals.”

All of us involved in the campaign are so thankful to everyone who signed the petition, wrote letters, sent postcards etc. Thank you all for your support! It’s amazing what can happen when people work together! #peoplepower

But it is not over yet!                                                                                                                                     The #savelandreg Campaign now enters Phase 2

The people have spoken! We now hope the government will take heed of the publics opposition to the proposed plans and that this is reflected in the Government’s response to the consultation and they will commit to keeping the Land Registry public.

In the meantime, we need to our turn attention to the Wider Powers contained within the Infrastructure Bill, which if they pass successfully through the House of Lords, will pave the way to privatisation next time the opportunity arises.

Michael Kavanagh writes,

“PCS welcomes the news that privatisation plans have been scrapped, for now, and we are delighted and extremely grateful to the support 38 Degrees members have given to our campaign.

We are, however, concerned that Government are pressing ahead with changes to LR, including taking over processing local land charges searches, which are widely seen as paving the way for a future attempt to privatise. The campaign will be stepped up accordingly.”

photo

The land registration system underpins the property market in England and Wales and guarantees title to billions of pounds worth of property!

Christian Lister, Chairman of the Independent Property Search Agents (IPSA) tells of his concerns,

“The HMLR Wider Powers contained within the draft Infrastructure Bill (currently being debated in the House of Lords) still need greater scrutiny as the proposals do very little to improve the data provision of a local search; which is required by mortgage lenders to asses risk on a property or land.

The personal search industry has over the past 14 years brought significant consumer benefits and streamlined housing transactions from months to weeks.

As an industry we are constantly developing new products, constantly improving the consumer process and the competitive nature of the industry is a true consumer price benefit.

IPSA believe greater consultation is required before these Wider Powers become law and create a very uncompetitive Government monopoly.  The Rt Hon Eric Pickles has already warned of this monopoly in his correspondence with other officials.

It’s time all MPs and Ministers took heed of his wording and pause for thought and greater interaction with IPSA.”

Please sign and share the petition. Follow the campaign on Facebook.              #peoplepower is working. Lets keep it up!

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