HM Land Registry has announced plans to publish a list of the top 500 entities responsible for the highest number of applications and ranking them by their track record of correctly completing Land Registry forms and applications. The publication will feature:
A downloadable file naming the top 500 conveyancers along with the percentage of the applications it receives which require further work before processing; and
A chart tracking the above data for the top 50 entities by volume of applications.
One of the main aims is to cut down the number of requisitions, which the Land Registry cites as a problem which is at least partly the cause of often significant backlogs at the Land Registry, with reports of First Registrations currently taking up to six months. The Land Registry itself acknowledges that it has work to do (and is providing further training to its own caseworkers), but hopes this will create an environment in which conveyancers and the Land Registry can work better together. It is also part of the Land Registry's 5 year Business Strategy published in November 2017 which it hopes will make conveyancing simpler, faster and cheaper – surely a win / win scenario?
The Land Registry reported that it sent 450,000 requisitions in the first 6 months of 2017, covering nearly 700,000 individual points. They currently send 5,500 requisitions daily and consider that over 40% of requisitions are avoidable because the issue raised was a clear requirement from the register or something well established by practice and / or a standard legal requirement and report that some firms have over 50% of their applications returned due to requisitions (with the lowest requisition rate they see being around 8% - quite a difference). They have provided practitioners with some fairly comprehensive guidance on how to avoid some of the most common mistakes here. It also reports that the top 5 reasons for sending requisitions are:
1. Restrictions (20%) – consents or certificates needed to satisfy the terms of restrictions on the register;
2. Discharges (13%) – discharge of charge evidence needed;
3. Variations and discrepancies in names (11%);
4. Signing and witnessing of deeds (6%);
5. Identity verification issues (3%).
These issues account for 53% of all requisitions, and many of them sound easily avoidable and are essentially administrative errors (although the Land Registry itself classes item 2 as unavoidable due to the issues many conveyancers face in obtaining the required information from lenders). Further, failure to ensure that deeds are correctly executed increases the risk of fraud and all that that entails. Therefore, in theory, the information will be useful for insurers and their insureds both in terms of risk management from a solicitor / client perspective, and for underwriters assessing potential new or renewed risks. Conveyancing is a perennial favourite on the list of highest risk areas for solicitors (and virtually always the area of work which results in the highest volume of professional negligence claims), and the figures above merely affirm this.
However, practitioners report that it might not be quite as simple as meets the eye – caseworkers at the Land Registry can be inconsistent in raising requisitions, leading to uncertainty and sometimes unreasonable / incorrect requisitions. By its own admission, the Land Registry is not infallible, although it currently has no plans to publish reports on its own error rate. Further, there can be occasions where (quite understandably) the top priority is actually just to obtain priority in order to protect the client, and worry about the detail later. Some practitioners have also expressed concern regarding data protection issues, although the information was always theoretically disclosable under an FOI request. However, by and large, firms showing up on the list as repeat offenders may wish to re-evaluate their internal procedures and training, and insurers may wish to ask some rather pointed questions for their insureds featuring highly on the hit list.
There is currently no fixed timetable for the publication of the data, but the Land Registry expects this to be in 2018 so watch this space. Whether it is in place for the traditional solicitors' renewal period is another matter…