The Title Register: A quick explainer

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The Land Registry quotes on its blog that Oliver Cromwell once described English land law as being “an ungodly jumble”.  To some extent, this might still qualify as fair comment, but equally fair to say is that since its creation in 1862 the Land Registry has been instrumental in imposing some order.

There is now a pleasing uniformity to the presentation of property ownership in England and Wales, at least in the case of the 85% of land that is now registered with the Land Registry; for the continually diminishing remainder – unregistered land – the musty jumble (that word again) of original conveyances, epitomes and abstracts of title is as relevant as ever.

But back to the 85% percent of registered property, the key to everything is the official copy of register of title (“the register”) together with its related title plan.  The title number stated in the register, and shown on the title plan, is unique to that property and does not change from owner to owner.  This is why the title number is the definitive way of identifying a property, in a sale contract for example, as opposed to the property address.

Whatever the nature of the property – a terraced property in the Rhondda, a country pile in the shires or a 10th floor lease in the City – the register adopts the same format: Part A (Property Register), Part B (Proprietorship Register) and Part C (Charges Register).  Given how central the register is to understanding the title to a property, it is worthwhile looking at each of those parts in more detail:

Part A (Property Register)

This will contain the address of the property (not always consistent with what the property might be known as at the time – a point which underscores the importance of the never-changing title number) and cross-refers to the extent as shown on the title plan (typically by red edging).

It also recites the date that the property was first registered and whether the property is freehold or leasehold, though bear in mind that it is only leases with a term of more than seven years that are registrable in their own right (i.e. allocated a title number).  If leasehold, the register will state the date of the lease, the parties and the term length.

Crucially, Part A is where you will find reference to rights, if any, that benefit the property; for example, a right of way over neighbouring land, which would then typically be illustrated on the title plan. Any exceptions of mines and minerals underlying the property will also be acknowledged in this part of the register.

Part B (Proprietorship Register)

Here you will find the name of the current owner and its contact address. If there has been a change of name with Companies House (in the case of corporate owners) this is not automatically reflected in an update to the register, so check on the Companies House website for a name change if the owner is not as expected. Unless the owner acquired the property before April 2000, the register will also show the price paid for the property.

Two other important pieces of information can be found in Part B:

  • Restrictions: On any transaction, these need to be quickly identified (there might be none, one of several) because they prohibit any dealing, or a class of dealing, such as the grant of a lease, unless the conditions of the restriction are satisfied. Restrictions can come in many varieties, but most commonly they protect a lender by precluding any dealing (e.g. a sale) of a property without the lender’s consent. Early attention needs to be given to restrictions to avoid transactions being delayed.
  • Class of title: This is a little more obscure, but unlike restrictions is always referred to in the register.  In the Land Registry’s own words: “the class of title describes how confident the Registrar is in the establishment of ownership at registration”.  In most cases, a property is assigned “absolute freehold” or “absolute leasehold” title and no more attention needs to be given to this part of the register. If it is something else, this will need further consideration.

Part C (Charges Register)

As well as reciting any leases and mortgages, the latter of which will have been signalled by corresponding restrictions in Part B, this part summarises any burdens (also known as encumbrances) affecting the property.

These could include rights in favour of neighbouring land – for example, rights of way or for the passage of services over the property – or restrictive covenants benefiting neighbouring land and that restrict the way in which the property can be used.  Some unwelcome surprises can be found at any point until you reach the universal “End of register” .

Some of the legal phraseology used in the register can be a bit difficult, but a good grasp of how the register is configured and what each part is broadly aimed at should aid understanding.  If you have any questions or concerns, please do contact us for further advice.

This article is for general purpose and guidance only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken before acting on any of the topics covered. No part of this article may be used, reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form, or by any means without the prior permission of Brecher LLP.