Law Society latest organisation to express doubt on Land Registry privatisation

The Law Society has become the latest in a long line of organisations to announce their opposition to George Osborne’s second attempt at privatising Land Registry.

Previously, the Conveyancing Association, the Competition and Markets Authority and News Media Organisation have all stated their opposition to the move, as well as the Open Data Institute and the civil service union PCS. The consultation on the matter closed last week.

In his response to the consultation, Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: “The Law Society is not convinced, from the information supplied to date, that sufficiently robust safeguards will be imposed and successfully enforced if the Land Registry’s operations were sold off. Without solid assurances on these issues, the Land Registry should remain in public ownership.

“Government’s imperative to reduce the budget deficit should not drive the privatisation of the Land Registry. Decisions about the sale must hinge on the long-term ramifications and management of the significant risks that have been identified.”

The Law Society also chose to highlight the need to ensure that, if the transfer happens, any new owner is bound to deliver the high standards of service from knowledgeable staff that users have come to expect.

Smithers added: “The Land Registry works within our critical national infrastructure. If privatisation does go ahead, robust safeguards must be in place from the outset to protect the interests of users and taxpayers for the long term.

“Although government proposes to retain ownership of the registers, selling off the rest of the Land Registry’s operations to the private sector could create conflicts of interest and raise competition issues.

“There is also a risk of an adverse impact on the impartiality of registration services, which are critical to the trust and confidence of users.”

In any sell-off, the Law Society says that safeguards would be required to address the following issues:

  • competition and conflicts of interest
  • security and protection against corruption and fraud
  • data protection, data provision, the applicability of Freedom of Information legislation
  • a state guarantee and the related indemnity provision
  • contingency plans to ensure continuity of service if the private company fails
  • safeguards to ensure the quality and impartiality of registration decisions
  • accessible and cost effective redress systems
  • fee controls for registration services
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