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Plans to sell off the Land Registry have been ‘paused’

Wednesday 14 September 2016

Controversial plans to privatise the Land Registry have been ‘paused’, following a backlash from campaigners who warned the move would benefit tax avoiders and compromise national security.

Former Chancellor George Osborne’s previous bid to sell off the agency, and raise £1.2 billion for the Treasury, was hampered by the Liberal  Democrats. Opposition MPs and union leaders also welcomed the decision to drop the measure from the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill, arguing it would only serve private companies hoping to profit from homeowners’ data.

They are now calling on the government to formally scrap the plan, which they say would make it easier for ‘secretive trusts and shell companies’ to buy property, while protected by ‘shady and opaque’ offshore tax set-ups.

The Land Registry provides a state guarantee of land ownership in England and Wales – the legal basis which confirms that you own the land on which your property stands. It is responsible for ensuring conveyances, transfers and mortgages are properly recorded and recognised by law.

The PCS union’s land registry group said selling off the agency, which receives no government funding and last year provided a £120 million return to the public coffers, would be ‘short-termist’.

They warned that handing a judicial function to a private company could mean the management of property data being geared towards commercial, rather than public, interests.

The union also predicted a sell off would damage the registry’s work and lead to higher fees for the public and businesses, with the government (and tax payers) obliged to ‘pick up the pieces’ if the private company fails or decides it is not profitable enough.

Industry experts warned that national security could be compromised if the registry, one of the largest-property databases in Europe, was owned by a foreign company.

Landlords will be celebrating the news that information about their past transactions will not fall into the hands of a private company.

And they will welcome the rejection of a move for which there is no demand from industry or the public – and which has been slammed by the Open Data Institute, the Competition and Markets Authority and the Open Data Institute.

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