Unregistered Land

About 15% of land in England and Wales remains unregistered. Much of this relates to landed estates and vast tracts of countryside but there are still significant pockets of unregistered title even in urban areas.

Registration of land first started in England and Wales in the 19th century although not centralised and was brought together by the Land Registration Act 1925 as part of a great raft of reform of property law.

Since 1925 there have been various triggers so that on a conveyance or other disposal of land a compulsory first registration is required and to prevent the registries from being overwhelmed compulsory first registration was introduced in stages and some counties and districts did not require compulsory registration until 1990 (parts of Essex and Suffolk).

The Land Registration Act 2002 introduced more classes of disposal to trigger a compulsory first registration in a drive to get as much registered as possible.

However, talking to a senior lawyer in a major London firm on the edge of retirement, she told me that she was the last person in the firm with expertise in unregistered land. Since unregistered conveyancing is not taught in any detail in law schools, the art of dealing with it is dying out, but not at Bartons.

The bulk of our West Country work is in the South Hams of Devon which did not become an area of compulsory first registration until February 1978 which means that we still frequently come across unregistered title.

The techniques for dealing with unregistered title are significantly different from dealing with registered land largely because title has to be “deduced” (in other words proved) in the course of the transaction instead of accepting from the Land Registry the names of the registered owners. There are other issues such as checking whether Stamp Duty was correctly paid, whether restrictive covenants were correctly registered at the Land Charges Registry where final searches have to be made prior to completion. Epitomes of title and abstracts of title have to be studied, memoranda on conveyances checked, vacating receipts on mortgages need to be verified and a different set of forms has to be submitted to the Land Registry to effect first registration.

In dealing with abstracts, it is also necessary to understand the shorthand used by the draughtsmen of the abstract whereby for example “said” is “sd”, “consideration” is “conson” , “beneficial” is “benefl”, “witnessed” is “witned”, “dwellinghouse ” is “dwghse” and so forth (like an early form of SMS abbreviation).

An understanding of unregistered land, also assists with registered land in terms of the enforceability of pre-registration covenants, contracts and equitable easements and there is a wealth of information registered at the Land Charges Registry which often goes untapped because land registration itself is not perfect and an understanding of unregistered land can provide the missing links.

At Bartons we have property experts with an understanding of unregistered land able to guide clients through the process of dealing with unregistered land.



Claire Reynolds

Nicola Edgcombe

Kristy Giles

Roseanna McNally

Raymond Hayes