Who owns Britain?

The land registry is going through some serious changes at the moment. Peter Collis, Chief Land Registrar and Chief Executive of Land Registry, has announced that after 10 years in the role he will be stepping down. Add to this the proposed closure of several Land Registry offices and it is not hard to see why people are questioning the Land Registry, and why over 70 years after its creation up to 40% of all land in England and Wales is still unregistered land.

Finding the owners of unregistered land is a long and difficult task but why is it so much land still unregistered? Some argue that the very fact that it is so hard to find the owner of an unregistered piece of land is the very reason that so much does remain unregistered.

Land that is sold in England and Wales must now as part of the sale go through the process of first registration but there are of course exceptions to this rule and these loopholes allow certain land owners to stay well and truly under the radar.

70% of land in England and Wales is still owned by less than 1% of the population and according to some over 30 million acres have “disappeared”. So who does own Britain?

The biggest estates in the country are

  • The Duke of Cornwall
  • Duchy of Lancaster
  • Duchy of Cornwall

The Prince of Wales became the 24th Duke of Cornwall on The Queen’s accession to the throne, in 1952. When he was 21, in 1969, he became entitled to the full income of the Duchy and took over its management. The Duchy owns over 50,000 hectares of land spread across 23 counties mainly in the south-west of England. Most of this land is still not registered with Land Registry but it must be said that the estate is currently going through a voluntary registration process.

Over a third of land is still owned by aristocrats and traditional land gentry whilst we compete for the remaining land.

Lots of areas remain unregistered and these include

  • Unregistered woodland
  • Unregistered fields
  • Unregistered buildings
  • Private Roads

So what is unregistered land?

Unregistered land is not ownerless land it is simply land that is not registered with Land Registry, because of this there will be no details of the boundary of the land or the owner of the land with Land Registry. The owner of the land will be able to prove ownership through old title deeds which would usually be stored with a solicitor or in a safe storage facility.

So how do you trace the owners of unregistered land?

There is no easy answer to this. You must perform your own investigation to find the owner of the land or use a professional service to perform this task on your behalf.

There is certainly no database that you can access to find out and although more and more unregistered land is getting registered as it has to now when it is sold in a process called first registration, there are still an estimated 40 million plots of unregistered land in England and Wales, most of these are in rural areas although it is surprising how many buildings in built up areas are still unregistered, most of know of a property that has been left empty since we were young.

If you do find a piece of unregistered land that you wish to buy and you can agree a price with the owner there are several legal points that are worth considering,

  • The purchase of the land with an unregistered title involves investigation of the title deeds on each transaction
  • Sale of unregistered land triggers first registration of the title.
  • Unregistered land titles are subject to Land Charge Act of 1972
  • Rights affecting unregistered land must be registered as land charges at land Registry

There are more so it is worth looking into the legal requirements of registering the piece of land with Land Registry.

Unregistered land is also described as vacant land, disused land, scrub land and unused land but make no mistake it is not ownerless land.