Since 1862 the Land Registry has recorded the ownership of land and property in England and Wales and produces data on house prices and transactions that are used by the government to make policy decisions.
The government is taking the first steps to lead towards a sell off or part privatisation of the Land Registry. This, it believes would provide the public a service that is better value for money.
Property data experts say the registry records much more data than it publishes.
They single out prices paid for commercial properties and land as being particularly desirable to access and say the registry’s database of who owns every piece of land in England and Wales would also be hotly sought-after.
The most likely candidates to purchase the agency are thought to be big data-focused companies in the field of geographical mapping and information, or personal and consumer data.
As the Treasury seeks £10bn of extra privatisations, Michael Fallon, a business minister, unveiled a series of options for the body, which is the UK’s comprehensive source of data on house prices and employs around 4,500 civil servants.
These include turning the Land Registry into a joint venture between the state and a private company, or letting a private firm run it as a government-owned organisation.
It said any move away from public control would put at risk the confidence that homebuyers have in the service, which charges fees for certain checks on who owns land.
There are worries about the Land Registry’s ability to guard against fraud if a range of private firms are involved in maintaining the register and the potential increased cost to homebuyers if it is run for profit rather than in the public interest.
"There is absolutely no evidence that this would improve services at what is a well-respected and trusted 150-year-old institution, and senior managers have so far failed to make a coherent case," said Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS.
"Any perceived benefits in taking what is inevitably the first step towards privatising the Land Registry are overwhelmingly outweighed by the huge risks involved."
Announcing an eight-week consultation into its future, Fallon said: "Giving Land Registry more flexibility to operate in the modern world will enable them to become a leader in digitising land and property services and support economic growth in the wider economy. We welcome views from all interested stakeholders to help us shape the future of land registration services."
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said full privatisation of the Land Registry is not being considered at this stage. Several years ago, a report by the Adam Smith Institute identified the Land Registry as a potential asset of interest to private equity companies.