UK: The New Land Registration Act

Last Updated: 26 June 2003

The Land Registration Act 2002 introduces major changes to our conveyancing system on 13 October 2003. Many of the changes have practical consequences for landowners, including tenants.

The new Land Registration Act repeals and replaces all existing legislation on land registration. The purpose of the Act is to create a framework for electronic (instant) conveyancing which is expected to be introduced over the next few years.

To meet the objective of establishing a system of electronic dealing with land "the register should be a complete and accurate reflection of the state of the title of the land at any given time, so that it is possible to investigate title to the land on-line, with the absolute minimum of additional enquiries and inspections" (2001 Law Commission Report No 271).

This will go a small, but not a material, way towards achieving greater liquidity in property. The Act heralds a very significant degree of greater transparency in property dealings. That is likely to be the key consequence so far as you are concerned.



Any lease granted for more than 7 years, or any existing lease having more than 7 years to run on assignment, will be compulsorily registrable at HM Land Registry. In time, this will come down to leases of more than 3 years.

Leases taking effect more than 3 months ahead (even if they are for less than 7 years) must also be registered.

Freedom of information and the right to inspect the register and the documents referred to in it

Certain rights have been included in the Act to reflect the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. There will be an extended public right to inspect any document referred to in the register, including pre 13 October ones and including all registered leases and charges. These are not public documents at present.

The Land Registration Rules 2003, which have been published only very recently, say that a person can apply to designate a document as exempt from the public gaze if it contains prejudicial information. Provided the registrar is satisfied that the application in not groundless he is obliged to designate the document as exempt.

By definition prejudicial information means "information that, if disclosed to other persons, would or would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of the applicant" or "information that relates to an individual who is the applicant and, if disclosed to other persons, would or would be likely to cause substantial unwarranted damage or substantial unwarranted distress to the applicant or another."

These new rights are proving controversial in some quarters and the Rules provide that, during a transitional period of 2 years, a person can only inspect documents kept by the Land Registry before 13 October 2003 at the registrar's discretion. This, in effect, gives a period of two years during which to apply to have documents exempted. You would be well-advised to consider whether you were involved in any previous transaction to which this might be relevant.

There is an overt government intention here. The Government seeks to achieve far greater transparency in the property market. It is unlikely that initial rents can be kept off the public register. Reviewed rents do not need to find their way on to it. Purchase prices are generally noted on the register anyway, although with careful handling that can sometimes be avoided.

All this is also relevant to compliance with the Code of Practice on Commercial leases. Third parties will be able to see registered leases unless the "prejudicial information" test can be met. Confidentiality clauses will not override the Act.


The Act favours the "paper" title owner (although there will be more paper titles - see below) and disadvantages the squatter. It will become more difficult to acquire title by adverse possession. An early warning system is introduced requiring a registered proprietor to be notified of an application by a person who has been in adverse possession for 10 years to register a new title. The registered proprietor will be able to serve a counter-notice and take action to evict the squatter within 2 years. If he fails to do so, the squatter may apply again and his application to be registered will succeed.

Land and Charge Certificates abolished

These will not constitute evidence of title after 13 October 2003. They will have no function at all. The Land Registry will issue an informal title information document following completion of a registration. The certificates which are with your deeds can be destroyed and anyone who is worried that a land certificate has been lost can relax. The only thing which constitutes evidence of ownership is what is on the public land register. (It will still be necessary to keep counterpart leases and licenses, etc.).

Voluntary first registration

In the spirit of the register being a complete, accurate and transparent record of all interests relating to land, the range of instances where it is possible to apply for voluntary registration is extended. Even sporting or fishing rights can be registered with a separate title.

If you own significant unregistered land, you need to bear in mind that getting it registered has several advantages.

The time may come when registering unregistered land will be compulsory.


Under the new regime more accurate plans than some which have been used in the past will be required. An applicant will have to supply a plan that enables the land to be identified on the Ordnance Survey map, although in some (limited) cases it will be sufficient to refer simply to postcodes. It is possible that new plans will be needed for dealing with existing land interests. "For identification purposes only" will never be acceptable to the Land Registry.

Overriding interests

Unregistered interests which currently bind a registered owner, even though not noted on the title (such as an express legal easement), are redefined and much reduced in scope. Such interests will have to be protected by registration in the future. There are complicated transitional arrangements and lawyers will have to concentrate.

This means, from your point of view, that your registered titles will, over time, show much more relevant information and, if no good house-work is done in clearing off "dead wood", in much more irrelevant information.

Cautions and Inhibitions Abolished

For the legally inclined...

Although existing cautions on the register will remain, new cautions against dealing will be abolished. Third party rights will need to be protected by an agreed or unilateral form of notice. Documents backing agreed notices will be on the public record.

Cautions against first registration will remain (but, after 2 years, an owner will have to apply for substantive registration).


The Act contains new provisions on further advances and statutory charges.

A new method of protecting further advances is created by permitting the parties to agree a maximum sum for which a charge shall stand as security which is protected on the register. The charge will have priority over subsequent charges until the maximum sum secured is reached.

Crown Land

Crown Land becomes registrable for the first time. This will include the foreshore and land to the territorial limit which at present cannot be registered.

In Sum

The main changes to be brought in by the Land Registration Act 2002 on 13 October 2003 have been highlighted here. The changes are not merely an update of the old law of land registration but represent fundamental changes. Underlying them are many more changes of detail.

Article by Christopher Harrison

© Herbert Smith 2003

The content of this article does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. Specific advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

For more information on this or other Herbert Smith publications, please email us.

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