Guest Blog from Registers of Scotland: Completing the picture of who owns Scotland

‘Land register completion’ is a phrase that many in the legal professional have started to hear quite frequently. Registers of Scotland’s Charles Keegan outlines why and how a complete picture of land ownership in Scotland is being created, and what it means for professionals working in the property field.

In May 2014, Scottish ministers asked Registers of Scotland (RoS) to complete the land register by 2024, with all public land registered by 2019. Completing the land register will mark a major shift in land and property ownership in Scotland.

Currently, property titles are recorded on either the 400-year-old General Register of Sasines, or the Land Register of Scotland which began in 1981. Unlike the older register, which is is a chronological list of deeds, the land register is digital and map-based. 

Moving all titles to the modern register will make conveyancing easier, faster and cheaper. A completed land register will be a national asset, forming the base layer of ScotLIS, a new online land and property information system being established from next year. The complete land register will also lead to greater transparency, as it will allow anyone to easily find out who owns what across the country.

Until recently, titles have been moving gradually from the sasine register to the land register, mainly when a property changes ownership. In order to accelerate the transition, the Land Registration etc (Scotland) Act 2012 created new mechanisms by which we can move properties onto the land register.

On 1 April 2016, the sasine register closed to standard securities, meaning that new borrowing with a new lender triggers a move to the land register. We expect this change to affect a fairly small number of properties – probably 4,000 to 5,000 per year.

The 2012 Act also gave the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland the power to move titles onto the land register without the owner making an application. ‘Keeper-induced registration’, or KIR, will ultimately add several hundred thousand property titles to the land register. Initially, we will only use it in urban residential areas, mainly housing estates, where we already have extensive information about titles.

Live KIR pilots will start later in 2016 in three urban areas spread across Scotland, with a full roll-out beginning next year. We plan to engage with the local conveyancing community, along with elected representatives and citizens’ groups, prior to starting KIR in each area.

The other major means of transferring titles to the land register is voluntary registration. Many law firms are already working on applications on behalf of clients with large landholdings, and are actively promoting the benefits of voluntary registration, which include making future commercial opportunities for parcels of land more straightforward.

For both private and public sector landowners, moving to the land register clarifies exactly what they own, ironing out any uncertainties over boundaries with neighbouring properties. It makes managing their land much more straightforward and less costly, as all title information can be viewed easily online. And a title on the land register is protected by a state-backed warranty.

Registers of Scotland has set up dedicated teams of advisors to guide private landowners and public bodies through the voluntary registration process. Our teams have travelled more than 16,000 miles so far to meet with landowners, public sector organisations and their legal representatives to discuss the benefits of moving to the land register. Solicitors have often proved to be key influencers in the decision to proceed with voluntary registration.

In response to feedback, we’ve also set up a new plans assistance service to interpret the information on the sasine register and draw up property plans that meet the criteria for registration. Landowners with large and complex landholdings tell us they are finding the mapping process in itself useful, as it’s often the first time their property has been fully mapped at all, let alone on a GIS system.

At Registers of Scotland, promoting voluntary registration is a high priority, and our work to engage landowners on the issue is set to increase. Having had a positive response from large estate owners, we’re launching a programme of engagement with the agricultural sector this summer. We’ll also be promoting voluntary registration to commercial property owners.

On the public sector side, we’ve met with more than 150 public bodies, and we’re working hard to help them meet the earlier 2019 target for the registration of public land.

For legal professionals interested in helping landowners make the move to the land register, there’s certainly plenty of interest out there.

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