The Land Registry is promoting its new Local Land Charges Register (the LLCR) as a simpler, faster and cheaper way of accessing local search information but, until all the local authorities are registered, there’s little advantage to using it.
The Infrastructure Act 2015 gave the Land Registry powers to take over part of the land charges section of the local search, in a phased process, which started last year. The local search is, of course, a key search in any conveyancing transaction and is typically indispensable unless no-search insurance can be obtained in a form acceptable to a purchaser and any mortgagee . The Land Registry will manage the LLCR entries, which include information such as planning permissions, listed buildings, tree preservation orders, conservation areas, enforcement notices, planning policies and other notices.
Now that a number of authorities have migrated to the Land Registry, it is advertising its new service, which is available online to both individuals and professionals.
The local search comprises two parts – the LLCR and the CON29 questionnaire. The Land Registry will only take over the LLCR, and the CON29 questionnaire will remain with the local authorities. This is the biggest weakness of the reform, and respondents to the government consultation queried why the two parts of the search had to be separated and obtained from two different places. As much of the CON29 information is already publicly available (for example, through the planning portal) or is provided by other agencies (such as Network Rail or the Highways Agency), it may be that the long-term intention is to limit direct enquiries to local authorities altogether to save costs, but in the interim it just introduces further administration and complication.
The local authorities will continue to be involved with the LLCR, even once the data has migrated. Staff will need to input additions, variations and cancellations to the LLCR, so there will still be the inevitable delay between the existence of a notice and its entry on the LLCR. However, the Chief Land Registrar will also have the power to vary or cancel a local land charge, of their own motion, although the extent of this power is to be decided and the granting of this power has raised a few eyebrows among those who consider the Registrar to lack the information needed to make such a ruling. The property will also continue to be subject to any registrable charge, regardless of whether it is registered or not.
How to use the new register
Users accessing the LLCR will first need to check whether their authority has migrated. If not, they will need to do a local search. Currently only 5 authorities are shown on the list of those who have migrated, so in most cases, it is business as usual. If the authority has migrated, conveyancers will no longer be able to obtain LLCR data from the local authority, but they will still have to request CON29 replies. So much for streamlining.
The LLCR may be accessed for free, but the results will not be guaranteed. Users can pay a £15 fee to receive an Official Certificate, where the results will be guaranteed by the Land Registry. This means that the party relying on the search will be entitled to compensation for loss suffered in consequence of the failure of the search to reveal an adverse entry. Generally, when recovering compensation from the Land Registry, the amount recoverable is capped at the value of the land, interest or charge at the time the mistake was made. The amount paid may be higher once interest is calculated.
As the search is either free or only £15, it is significantly cheaper than the current local search. The results will also be available instantly, which is a great improvement on the turnaround times of several weeks currently experienced for the local search. This is, of course, with the caveat that conveyancers will still be waiting for replies to separate CON29 enquiries and so there may be no time saving at all. It is also charged at a fixed price across all councils, whereas the local search price varies depending on the authority – a change that is to be welcomed.
The LLCR search has the added benefit that users can repeat the search as many times as they require, within a six-month period. This will enable purchasers and lenders to refresh the search prior to exchange or completion, and pick up any new enforcement notices or other adverse entries. It is expected to reduce costs and time for homebuyers and transactions may proceed to completion far more quickly.
This all sounds like fantastic news and once the LLCR is entirely managed by the Land Registry, it will certainly revolutionise conveyancing search practices. However, as only 5 local authorities have migrated, it is very much early days for the database and it is wondered whether the Land Registry is plugging its new service a bit soon. Optimistic estimates expect full migration to take 7 years and presumably there will also be the usual technical glitches we’ve come to expect from the roll-out of new databases.
On completion of the data migration, the Land Registry estimates they will hold 25 million records comprising 85% of the land mass of England and Wales, centralising the system and streamlining the ability of users to register, vary and cancel local land charges. Once the LLCR is entirely managed by the Land Registry, it will prompt the biggest change to conveyancing search practices for several decades, so watch this space!