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Harvesting the benefits of rural property registration

21 Feb 2022

The farming community is gradually beginning to get a better idea of what the government’s Agricultural Transition Plan is going to mean to them, and to the wider industry, as it comes into full effect over the next five years.

As advisers to many farming and other rural businesses, we’re also looking closely at its various practical implications and what steps clients need to take to ensure things continue to run as smoothly as possible.

One of the areas that we think farm owners should be treating as a priority is the proper registration of land and rural property with the Land Registry. Registration only becomes compulsory if land is bought, gifted or mortgaged or for a few other reasons.

Although compulsory registration has been in place for many years, there is, to put it plainly, still a lot of unregistered land out there, and it’s often the case that owners only find this out when they come to try to do something with a piece of land that’s been owned by them or their family for a long time.

This lack of registration can have an impact in lots of ways, including delaying evidencing eligibility for certain agricultural incentives, access to grant schemes and even succession planning.

We’ve acted for a number of rural clients who’ve been looking to sell on some land, but who have only found out the actual situation when they’ve started the sale process and discover that they have to take steps at that late stage to get everything in order.

Given that it can currently take over a year to complete the registration process at the Land Registry, this would cause serious delays to any transaction, could impact on land values and could indeed scupper things altogether if a buyer decided they didn’t want to wait that long.

It is also important to note that the Land Registry offer discounts on their registration fees if a voluntary application for first registration is made, meaning that it is cheaper to deal with the registration now, rather than wait for a pressing reason to complete the process.

The process for third parties to claim land as their own (by way of adverse possession or “squatters’ rights”) is also more difficult if the land has been registered with the Land Registry, and so any lack of registration leaves the situation open for other parties with adjoining acreage to claim that a certain piece belongs to them, rather than you.

Rural Land registration, Agriculture, Law

The registration process can be dealt with direct by landowners with the Land Registry, but it can be tricky, especially for larger holdings that have a lot of documentation to process, and getting an experienced professional adviser on the case can save you a lot of time and administrative headaches.

The property deeds are required for the registration process, although it is possible (but more difficult) to register if the deeds have been lost at some point in the mists of time. You will also need to provide a plan which shows clearly where the boundaries of your land lie.

Rural property registration will give a landowner documented proof of ownership and the Land Registry will provide a plan showing your registered property boundaries. This is not, however, to be confused with registration of land on the Rural Land Register, which is another topic in itself.

All the information pertaining to any land registration now goes online and into the public domain via the Land Registry, which may be a factor in some landowners’ reluctance to complete this task.

But in our view, it’s a worthwhile compromise for ensuring that you retain ownership of what’s rightfully yours and makes matters more straightforward for you and your family in the future.

For further information on land and property registration, or any other aspects of farming and rural business operations, please contact Joanne Milne on 0191 232 8345 or via joanne.milne@hay-kilner.co.uk.