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Keeping the property market moving

Towcester town centre deserted during the coronavirus lockdown.
Keith Ryall/

It is difficult to find the words that can properly describe the change in the world in the last few weeks. You will, like me, be reading articles describing the effects on our lives and businesses as ‘unprecedented’, ‘challenging’, ‘devastating’, ‘like wartime’.

However you describe it, from the point of the property market, the effects are profound and we are only in the first phase.

The most important frontline – the NHS, our care homes, the food supply and so on – is where quite rightly most attention has been focused. Those who have been risking their lives to save the lives of others and who have been going out each day to keep us fed, safe and connected are my heroes.

But as we in the property industry know full well, it is not long before you realise that there are very few components of our modern lives that you can leave unattended for long before they cause major disruption and impair the pace of and prospects for a recovery.

More than half the wealth of the nation is in our properties – over £7 trillion in England and Wales alone. We estimate that £1-1.5 trillion of debt is currently secured on that asset. Those numbers alone tell of the financial importance of property and the role it may play in bridging over the economic troubles ahead.

HM Land Registry’s objective is to do its best to contribute to a healthy and efficient property market, for all the economic, social and environmental benefits that can bring – right now; through the recovery; and beyond. That is a goal shared by many, of course. That commonality of purpose is a strength right now.

Going into lockdown

Our first objective when we went into lockdown was to enable searches and urgent applications to proceed so that transactions could continue throughout. That was no mean feat. My colleagues who process the manual searches and expedited applications were not enabled for homeworking and our systems needed increased capacity to allow that to happen securely. I know this is a problem faced by many organisations.

You then have the more prosaic problems of where and how people can work given their home set up, caring responsibilities and that new-found delight for a lot of us – being a teacher with no previous training and with kids whose usual respect for authority seems to have gone into self-isolation. Maybe that’s just me.

We are now, I suspect like a lot of businesses, in the phase of adjusting to this new normal and building out to our maximum homeworking capacity. That will be in place in just a few weeks’ time. We have now started processing non-urgent applications and our production rate will quickly increase.

From what we see – judging by comments from our customers, incoming applications, and the number of expedite requests received – many people still want to and, most importantly, still need to deal with their property. That may be to obtain vital finance to support themselves or their businesses.

Listening to our customers

I know we are all facing the same challenges to the way we do our work. So another of our highest priorities has been to listen to our customers and find out the problems they are facing, to see if we can help. We want to make all the adjustments we can to enable the market to operate as effectively as it can right now, while keeping the process safe, of course. We have made a number of changes to practice and process requirements already and have several more under consideration.

To keep in touch regularly and test out ideas for their practicality, we have brought together a cross-section of our customers and stakeholders in a discussion forum. We want to use this as a means of understanding first-hand what the industry is experiencing and needs. It will be a proving ground for suggested changes so that we can quickly roll them out for everyone’s benefit. We will be sharing some more information on this group – with details on some of the important discussions underway – in the next few weeks.

It is plain that those businesses, services and marketplaces in the UK that are more digital are faring the best right now. In comparison with other markets the conveyancing process (including some of HM Land Registry’s own processes) is still too disjointed and reliant on paper to be comfortable in this kind of crisis.

Our priority is to look at ways in which we can minimise the need for paper and personal contact in things like the execution of documents and checking identity. We have already made practice changes that allow for easier signing and identity checks. We continue to work with the industry to push on all other improvements that might help.

This is not just a short-term sprint. The economy will need its property market to be the most efficient and effective thing it can be to spur the recovery on. We must continue to work openly and rapidly with the industry to ensure we can all make the most of this unwelcome opportunity.

We will get through this in time. What we want to do, with our customers and with their help, is learn from it and be better for it. That way we will be most able to support them through the crisis and the recovery, when it comes.

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  1. Comment by Jeffrey Shaw, Nether Edge Law solicitors posted on

    The dismissive references to 'paper' belie how important mere 'paper' is.
    a. unregistered titles (of which there are still quite a lot);
    b. the desirability of making a paper application in many cases, e.g. where the items to be submitted are not all electronic creations;
    c. repeated cases in which HMLR finds to its surprise that it does not, after all, hold a filed/electronic copy of a vital deed and has to cadge a paper copy from solicitors; and
    d. too many cases in which HMLR loses an application and a replacement needs to be submitted on paper.

    • Replies to Jeffrey Shaw, Nether Edge Law solicitors>

      Comment by David posted on

      About 2 years ago I attended a Land Registry presentation regarding voluntary Land Registration. My organisation had completed a large scale project for scanning all the documents in the deed store. This has proved to be a worthwhile project in may ways, including when making first registration applications. At the time the Land Registry indicated they were happy to receive properly certified copies of documents in electronic format. If this is still the case then this would seem to address most of your concerns. Granted with some really old 200 year plus documents that are bigger than A1 size and with wax deeds it may be necessary to use specialist scanning companies, but for the majority of the documents an A3 scanner was sufficient.

      • Replies to David>

        Comment by AdamH posted on

        David - we do accept certified copies from conveyancers for example. On first registrations, where the old deeds come into play, then section 4.4.4 of our PG 1 explains the available option

        • Replies to AdamH>

          Comment by Richard posted on


          Thanks for the reply. The problem is that far too often the scanning and retention abilities of the land registry are lacking. Large scale plans are scanned at A4 size meaning half is lost. plans are scanned in black and white not colour. documents are scanned illegibly so it is impossible to read them. some documents are not scanned at all . A lot of time is now wasted trying to find copies of documents which have not been dealt with correctly on first registration or later.

          • Replies to Richard>

            Comment by Sarah posted on

            I must second what Richard says: back 'in the day' Land Registry was pretty hot on most things but in recent years have become unreliable. Documents too often are either not available or badly scanned. in addition, too often applications are being rejected for tenuous reasons which common sense could overcome. this just adds to everyone's work load.

      • Replies to David>

        Comment by Anthony Howarth posted on

        Hi David,

        Whilst I note that the Registry states that properly certified copies are acceptable, our common experience at the moment is that our First Registration Application will be picked for a "spot-check" and original documents are required to be forwarded by post. This has recently been the case even where only one document was listed on the Epitome as being an original; in that same matter we received two requisitions thereafter stating an FR1 has not been enclosed with the application despite our Trainee having had the contents of the envelope containing the application documents checked by multiple colleagues.

        The Registry's handling of First Registrations was therefore imperfect before lockdown and we can only hope that a more diligent and cooperative approach will develop now

  2. Comment by Geraldine posted on

    Sounds like HMLR will have some long term improvements as a consequence of the pandemic. Somewhat a shame it has taken such extraordinary times to bring processes at HMLR on to something closer to 22st century. I look forward to a smoother, slicker experience next time I move house!

  3. Comment by P Desai posted on

    It would be great if more information could be available to the customer at the touch of a button. Thank you

  4. Comment by Philip Bryett posted on

    Very grateful that attention and awareness is being focussed on the Property Market which is vital to individual and national wealth. THANK YOU Land Registry.

    We must maintain property values and curtail the current drive to over-supply residential housing. Every town in UK has many Property Agents trying to find buyers and Tenants for EXISTING properties and housing stock, yet we are building more and more.

  5. Comment by Kasmai bahram posted on

    Very good.Thank you

  6. Comment by Kevin Leigh posted on

    If more work digitising records is being made, as a practitioner who often, decades after transactions are recorded, has to deal with issues arising from boundaries and easements etc, when only registered titles are available, it would be very helpful if all documents submitted for first registration and subsequent ones submitted when changes occur are ALL scanned since the parties themselves frequently do not ask for them back (and I understand HMLR destroys them) and if they are returned they are often lost over time. This way there is historically relevant material that might assist parties and courts interpret the meaning of old text and old plans/drawings. Registered titles and digitalisation of storage is wonderful, especially if it is easily accessible to the public and advisors. But the loss of contemprorary historic documents that might inform the meaning of aspects of titles is something to be avoided.

  7. Comment by Georgina Allcock posted on

    We have been waiting 5 weeks to have the lease of life removed, will these changes speed up the process?

  8. Comment by Will posted on

    Very helpful to those who are still trying to buy or sell but until removals companies are told they are able to move people's possessions again the housing market will remain immobile. Those individuals who had exchanged prior to Cover-19 remain in the worst state of limbo - the vendors who have taken deposits are not compelled in law to be passionate or sympathetic and can simply serve notices to complete and walk away with the money if the buyer is unable to offer VP on their own home as result of not being able to move home.

  9. Comment by Vicky posted on

    Interesting read. Our house purchase has been on hold since lockdown due to the suspension of site visits by Ordnance Survey, as our sellers have an area of unregistered land they need to claim adverse possession on before we can proceed.

    We still have no idea when this service will resume and it's looking more and more probable, as time goes on, that we will lose out financially due to our mortgage offer and searches approaching expiry.

    It's stressful that Ordnance Survey will not consider alternative ways to manage this on a case-by-case basis. Our poor seller has been in tears on the phone with them trying to convince them there would be no contact, offering video link, which was refused. I imagine many people are in the same position. If a similar situation happens in future, my feedback would be that remote surveying needs to be looked at and perhaps look at increasing the number of companies/surveyors that could perform this work in addition to Ordnance Survey. Appreciate the hard work of everybody at HM Land Registry, hoping surveys can resume soon so we can still complete in time.

    • Replies to Vicky>

      Comment by Kevin Leigh posted on

      I've come across consultants in the property/planning field using drones to conduct onsite surveys remotely. It might mean a controller driving to and parking up nearby but nonetheless remaining socially (and safely) distant. Perhaps this could be used for surveying until third party human contact is safe.

      • Replies to Kevin Leigh>

        Comment by AdamH posted on

        Kevin - We are working closely with Ordnance Survey to ensure a safe return to service as soon as the public health guidelines allow it. We are using alternative methods to avoid all but essential surveys needed to protect interests in land, and the integrity of the register.

        We can’t discuss individual cases on here, but if you want to discuss your application further please send us a message using our contact form

    • Replies to Vicky>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      Vicky - sorry to read of the issues you are facing. Can you email us at please with the specific details and we can ask someone to take a look and respond?

      • Replies to AdamH>

        Comment by Vicky posted on

        Good Morning Adam, thank you for replying so quickly. I've e-mailed customer services with more details and appreciate anything that can be done on this.

  10. Comment by Jeffrey Shaw, Nether Edge Law solicitors posted on

    ALSO: even before the National Emergency, the delays on Register Create applications [FR1, DFL, TP1] had already grown inordinately. They used to be estimated at five weeks (and the C6(COMP) even said so in writing) but that grew to 8, then 13, weeks. Currently, I have several TP1 applications which are still pending from early August 2019 and that's without any Requisitions! That's best part of nine months, sufficient to create a whole person and surely sufficient to create a new registered title. If/when things return to anything like normal, I do hope that HMLR will give some attention to eliminating the backlog once and for all.

  11. Comment by SEL posted on

    Of course, one day, an equivalent 'pandemic electronic virus' will hit the world's computers/data bases etc., which we are blindly sleep-walking into, just like the current medical one-- what happens then will make this crisis look somewhat tame it is feared

  12. Comment by Phil Bates posted on

    Agreed sale of terraced investment property early 2020 for exchange and completion on 6/4/20. All documents completed by both parties ready for 6/4 but buyers are waiting from February for removal of old lease by HMLR to enable sale of their property to a tenant. No people to move and our property is empty.
    It would be great if LR would respond and enable the transactions to complete and release the funds to support another business with employees and their clients needing support during this awful period.
    Come on LR, step up to the mark.

  13. Comment by Trevor Mealham posted on

    The removal of written signatures will be welcomed by crooks at the banks and those abusing power over the people.

    By removing "wet ink" signatures asset stripping by Lloyds BSU and RBS GRG will be allowed to further steal from innocent SME's where LR Originator charges are placed and not updated.

    Well done Land Registry for aiding and abetting fraud to happen easier

  14. Comment by Kenny green posted on

    Hi, How significant are delays to updating the register.
    I Applied 3rd April 2020 to have my middle name put on the deeds to to development of two barns I finished in February, apparently the mortgage application has to match the register.

    Now I’m paying £1850 pm interest on the development loan with a private investor fortunately for me he’s adding it to the loan Every month but without being able to talk to anyone at the land registry in Peterborough it’s quite frustrating and financially crippling me.

    Any reply appreciated.

  15. Comment by Matty S posted on

    We had an offer accepted on a house first week in Feb. Sadly we are at the bottom of the chain. All are ready to exchange apart from the top who has decided to use their maiden name on the title deed rather than married name, now we are having to wait for this to be rectified. We initially had a completion set for 30th June. What are the timescales? Our mortgage offer runs out 5th August will it take that long I think it has been r weeks already

  16. Comment by MattyS posted on

    Adam apparently they tried to expedite but it was refused, are they able to do it again?

    • Replies to MattyS>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      MattyS - refusal is normally because they didn’t provide documentary evidence of the sale/purchase. They can request again but it must be as per the link I shared

  17. Comment by Matty S posted on

    Hi Adam

    Top of the chain requested expedite yesterday

    How long will it take to process?

    • Replies to Matty S>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      Matty S - if expedited then generally speaking it’s considered within 2/3 working days

  18. Comment by Matty S posted on

    Excellent thanks Adam you have been a great help

    Hopefully we hear some good news this week

    • Replies to Matty S>

      Comment by Sam Spreadbury posted on

      Hi Marty, did your case get expedited and dealt with in 2/3 days? We have a similar problem! Sam

      • Replies to Sam Spreadbury>

        Comment by MattyS posted on


        Yes it did very quick too

        Best thing to do trust me!!!

  19. Comment by M posted on

    We've just been told Deeds of Variation currently aren't being processed, making it extremely difficult to sell our flat. Is there any update on when these services will return? Will it be in time to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday?


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