A dispute between a 74 year old farmer and the Church of England has highlighted the benefits of voluntarily registering land at the Land Registry.
The dispute involved 16 hectares of land, part of a 20 hectare farm, owned and run by Richard Tyacke. Unknown to Mr Tyacke, in 2010, the Diocese of Birmingham registered the freehold of the 16 hectares of land in its name by submitting a statement of truth to the Land Registry claiming ownership to the land. This land equates approximately to £500,000 worth of land in today's value. Mr Tyacke only learnt of the Diocese's claim when he discovered two of its managing agents on his farm. When Mr Tyacke confronted them he was informed that they were inspecting the land owned by the Church. Mr Tyacke challenged this assertion and requested that they produce evidence of Diocese of Birmingham's ownership to the land. No documentation was forthcoming.
In 2016 Mr Tyacke applied to register his ownership of his 20 hectare farm at the Land Registry, this is when his solicitors discovered what had happened. Mr Tyacke's solicitors were able to produce title deeds which proved Mr Tyacke's ownership of the farm including the 16 hectares in dispute. Faced with written evidence of Mr Tyacke's ownership the Diocese of Birmingham agreed to surrender the land and cancel its freehold registration. However, it has taken Mr Tyacke two years to be granted ownership of 16 of his 20 hectare farm and Mr Tyacke has only received partial reimbursement of the costs he has had to incur in order to obtain ownership of his own land.
There are still large areas of land which remain unregistered in England and Wales. Therefore, as long as land remains unregistered it is possible that what happened to Mr Tyacke could happen to other landowners. We would encourage any farmers and other landowners to register any unregistered land at the Land Registry. Not only does registration reduce the chance of successful third party claims, but also has a number of other benefits.
We set out below some of the benefits for land registration:
- Registered land is far easier to deal with, meaning that any future transactions will generally be cheaper and dealt with more efficiently.
- Registration creates a clear record of ownership, with an identifiable title plan and evidence of matters that affect the property making it readily marketable.
- Registered titles are protected under a government guarantee.
- Boundary disputes are less frequent, less costly to deal with and are more easily defeated once title is registered.
- Adverse possession claims are much easier to defeat.
- Registered land can be valued more quickly and inexpensively.
In addition, there are a number of disadvantages and risks of unregistered land:
- If all or part of title deeds are lost or destroyed it will be difficult to prove ownership and obtain good title to enable a sale in the future.
- If you want to know who owns a parcel of land it can be impossible to find out if the property is unregistered.
- It can be a long drawn out process reviewing original title deeds which can involve lengthy handwritten documents which it can be difficult to read and interpret. As such, if the title is unregistered there can be a delay drafting contracts as the conveyancer will need to wait for the deeds, check the chain of ownership is correct and then draft contracts.
- Unregistered land is at risk of fraud. When the owner of property dies it can be emotional dealing with the estate and also arranging to transfer or sell a property. It may also be difficult to locate the full title deeds if the land is still unregistered.
Carrying out a voluntary first registration while the owner is still alive will avoid these issues as applying for voluntary first registration will reveal whether there is any missing title deeds or issues with the paperwork which would be much easier to deal with when the owner is alive rather than when they are dead and unable to make any sort of statutory declaration.
Given the benefits of registered land and the risks of unregistered land, we would encourage anyone who still has unregistered land to make an application for voluntary first registration to the Land Registry. A voluntary application also benefits from a reduced registration fee which is 25% lower than for compulsory first registration.