Government plans to privatise the Land Registry for England and Wales have been put on hold. Proposals earlier this year had set out alternatives to the public model and measures to this effect were expected to be put before Parliament in September. The plans have now been delayed.
In our previous Law Now (available here) we reported on the proposals put forward for consultation by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills. The consultation outlined two alternative approaches to privatisation: either by way of a contract between the Government and a private operator, or through privatisation with the oversight of an independent economic regulator. Common to both options was the Government view that a privatised Land Registry would provide a more efficient, effective and modern service than that currently provided by the public sector.
Legislation to enable privatisation was included in the Queen’s speech in May. The provisions were expected to be included in the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill. However, the Neighbourhood Planning Bill 2016-17, as presented to Parliament on 7 September, does not include the anticipated measures.
According to the House of Commons’ Library Briefing Paper on the subject, the Government believes that “privatisation would deliver a capital receipt for Government and could support the Land Registry to be run more efficiently and effectively”. This view has been met with opposition. Organisations including the Competition and Markets Authority and Open Data Institute have criticised the plans. Suggestions have been made that privatisation may make it harder and more costly to access information and could lead to a lack of transparency over property ownership. This would be contrary to the publicity principles which the Land Registry represents.
The notion of Land Registry privatisation was floated previously in 2014. Following the receipt of largely negative responses, the decision was made not to alter the model at that time. The Government is now analysing the new consultation responses. A statement of their position is awaited.