Land Registry complaints – What’s the point?
I am a specialist in complaint resolution and provide an Independent Complaint Review service for Land Registry. I can’t, of course, give an opinion on whether legal decisions made by Land Registry are correct, but I can explore the causes of problems and recommend solutions. While I do not have power to recommend compensation I can propose a consolatory payment to reflect distress and inconvenience a customer has experienced.
Customers must go through Land Registry’s internal complaints process before they can approach me and the number of cases reaching me is small. The cases are often complex and a key challenge for me is to disentangle the facts and to understand both the customer’s and Land Registry’s perspective.
It is vital for me to remain firmly independent of organisations for which I provide a service. On the other hand, I aim to get to know each organisation’s vision and how it works so that I can make my findings perceptive and my recommendations realistic.
My annual report for Land Registry for 2015-16 gives facts and figures about my work, outlines the main themes and lessons from the year’s complaints and gives examples of changes made by Land Registry as a result from my recommendations.
I investigated 59 complaints and upheld or partially upheld 29% of complaint issues. Readers of Today’s Conveyancer may not be too surprised that one of the main lessons of 2015-16, as of previous years, is that customers often do not realise that Land Registry’s role – while hugely complex and requiring great professional expertise and integrity – is essentially administrative, and that the legal guarantee of title means that that the register provides legal proof of ownership, not a guarantee that Land Registry will protect the boundaries of each title. My job in these cases is to explain in simple terms what Land Registry can and can’t do, and if possible to make some practical suggestions on the way forward.
A number of cases highlighted how difficult it can be to correct mistakes made by Land Registry. Even when Land Registry is satisfied that there has been a mistake and is very clear about what needs to be done to correct it, it may not be able to make the correction unless it can get the agreement of the property-owners affected. If Land Registry makes a change of its own initiative, there are no arrangements for any objections to be resolved. So Land Registry generally asks the customer requesting the correction to make a formal application for alteration of the register so that any dispute can be referred to the Land Registration division of the Property Chamber, First-tier Tribunal. It is good to see that the Law Commission, in its 2006 consultation on land registration law, has identified these difficulties and outlined various options to improve the situation.
Other complaints raised issues such as Land Registry’s response to complaints of delay, access for non-professionals to Land Registry’s on-line services and the handling of enquiries from customers with disabilities.
Actions taken by Land Registry in the last 12 months as a result of my findings and recommendations include:
- Preparation of new guidance on evidence of identity
- Re-writing of some standard notices to include more information
- Clarification of wording on GOV.UK regarding price paid information
- Reminding staff of the importance of addressing all points raised in correspondence and, where appropriate, explaining why Land Registry cannot give an answer
- Launch of new staff training on how to identify and deal with complaints
- New guidance on general boundaries.
As the property market is adjusting to the referendum result and we are awaiting the Government’s decision on the privatisation of Land Registry, it is vital to maintain a robust complaints process for Land Registry customers – with the option of external review. An effective complaints procedure gives customers assurance that their voices will be heard, and also helps Land Registry keep its eye on the ball during a time of change.