Conveyancing Association comes out against Land Registry privatisation.

With ten days to go before the government consultation closes, the Conveyancing Association has come out against farming the duties of Land Registry out to the private sector.

CA’s management committee met two weeks ago to discuss the proposal, with the majority of the committee’s members voting to oppose the second attempt at privatising Land Registry.

The CA has written to respond to the consultation, expressing their belief that privatisation would not be in the best interests of clients, the conveyancing profession or the Land Registry itself, based on a number of reasons including its experience of previous privatisations.

They also suggested that any assets gained through privatisation would be negligible compared with the George Osborne’s yearly budget deficit, leading them to believe the proposal isn’t viable from a fiscal point of view.

The CA has suggested in its response that such ambitions would not require privatisation; instead it argue for a potential increase in fees, plus a reversal of the recent halving of fees for electronic registrations which would immediately double the Land Registry’s income yet is a relatively small burden for the home buyer in amongst the other costs and charges involved in the process. This new fee structure could be renamed the Land Registration Tax. The CA has argued that in the long-term this revenue gain would exceed the capital return of realisation of the Land Registry asset with less risk.

The CA also said it lacked confidence in a number of areas, namely how the service manager of any privatised Land Registry would be managed in order to meet key performance indicators, how it would maintain the current services offered, and how it would deliver innovation in its core Land Registration activities.

The consultation is available here. The closing date for responses is 26 May 2016.

Eddie Goldsmith, Chairman of the Conveyancing Association, said: “It was very clear from last month’s MCM that, while the vote was not unanimous, a majority of management committee members opposed any privatisation of the Land Registry. Within our consultation response we have therefore set out the reasons for this opposition and we would urge individual CA member firms to issue their own responses, in order that we reflect both a collective view and also to ensure those with a different opinion have their voices heard.

“We are however not so naive as to think that this will mean privatisation is stopped in its tracks. It’s clear that it is the Government’s favoured option and therefore it may go ahead regardless of our views. This is why, within our consultation response, we have suggested a number of safeguards that we would like to see in place, as well as recommendations about how a newly-privatised Land Registry should be managed, overseen and ultimately deliver its services.

“We await the results of the consultation and will be taking a full part in any future proposals that the BIS issues on this incredibly important matter.”

Luciana Berger, the Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree told Today’s Conveyancer: “Back in 2014 the government abandoned plans to privatise the Land Registry and said that it would not be privatised before the general election in 2015. Concern about the plans was expressed by the PCS union and the Law Society which urged the government to ensure that any plans for privatisation should protect the integrity of the register.

“Unfortunately, the government is selling off whatever public assets it can for short-term gain which will have long-term consequences. The sell-off risks undermining confidence in Land Registry data, jeopardising the service to homebuyers, and eroding conditions for staff. The Land Registry made a surplus of £100 million in 2012/13.

“The Tory government claims that privatisation would enable the Land Registry to become ‘even more efficient and effective.’ Yet, the announcement was slipped out late on the last day before recess in another desperate attempt to avoid scrutiny.

“I know that my shadow Cabinet colleagues are determined to do everything possible to oppose this unnecessary, un-evidenced and unwanted privatisation.”

Today's Conveyancer