Obtaining Documents from the Land Registry




 




Land Registration - an introduction

Most of the land in England is now registered. When registration of land commenced in the 19th Century, the intention was that the register would completely define title to land so that, once land was registered, it would be unnecessary to refer to any other documents. It became apparent, however, fairly early on, that such a rigid system had its drawbacks. Neighbours who had lived happily together for years with a boundary which was not precise on the ground, became aggrieved once a title plan was registered at the Land Registry defining a precise boundary position with which one or other of the neighbours disagreed. A boundary dispute was thus created where none had existed before. 

The current system of land registration, which is now in the Land Registration Act 2002, represents a hybrid system where much of the information about title to land can be found in the Register of Title and Title Plan themselves, but the Title Plan does not purport to show anything other than approximate boundaries, and other documents filed under the title number, some but not all of which are mentioned in the Register of Title, need to be consulted to determine the exact boundaries and for certain other purposes. Also there are some legal rights, known as overriding interests, which are binding on a purchaser of land even though not referred to on the register.

The two basic documents registered under each title number are

  • the Register of Title, which contains a brief description of the land, the name of the registered proprietor (owner), and some information about rights which other landowners may have over the land (such as restrictive covenants restricting how the land can be used)
  • the Title Plan which shows the boundaries of the registered land on a plan based on an Ordnance Survey map. The boundaries shown on the Title Plan, in the vast majority of cases, are general boundaries - i.e. only approximate boundaries.
Because, under the current system of land registration, the Title Plan only shows approximate boundaries, if the exact boundary needs to be determined it is necessary to look first at historical documents. For example, if part of a piece of registered land is sold off a Transfer of Part document, which contains a plan of the land being sold off, is signed by the seller and sent to the Land Registry who then create a new Register of Title and Title Plan with a new title number for the land sold off, and amend the Title Plan for the existing title number to show the reduced area of land. The new Title Plans for each title number, however, only show the new approximate boundaries so if there is any question as to where the exact boundary between the two titles is, it is the Transfer of Part document itself which must be consulted. The Transfer of Part document should be filed under the title number so that anyone, on request, and payment of a small fee, can obtain an official copy of it.

In the case of boundaries which already existed at the time land was first registered, it is necessary to look at the conveyances (a conveyance is the equivalent, for unregistered land, of a transfer) by which the owner who applied for first registration of the land, proved his title to the land. The Application Form for First Registration document will be accompanied by a List of Documents showing the conveyances which accompanied it, and copies of both the Application Form (and List of Documents), and the conveyances themselves, should be filed under the title number so that anyone can obtain a copy.            

       

Rights over Land

A landowner may have rights over their neighbour's land. For example they may have an easement such as a right of way over the neighbour's land, or they may have a right to enforce a restrictive covenant preventing the neighbour's land being used for anything other than residential purposes. The general intention behind the system of land registration is that a buyer of land should not be caught out by finding that land he has bought is subject to some burden or restriction which he was not aware of. This purpose, which does not always work 100% of the time, is achieved partly by the principle that many rights, if they are not registered against land, will be lost when the land is sold. However there are some rights, generally rights which should be obvious from investigation of the land, which are known as overriding interests, which are not lost when land is sold even if they are not mentioned on the Register of Title. An example of an overriding interest is a right of way which is visible on the land (e.g. because of a made up, or worn, track, a gate or stile, or something else which indicates that one landowner is walking, driving, riding etc. over another's land). A restrictive covenant is an example of an interest which is not an overriding interest, so that, if not registered against the burdened land, it would normally be lost when that land is sold.

In the Register of Title of burdened land, there may be a detailed description of the burden, followed by a reference to the document which created the burden, or there may simply be a reference to the document which created the burden, e.g.

A conveyance of the land in this title and other land, dated 30 June 1930 made between James Joyce and Tom Jones contains restrictive covenants. NOTE Copy filed.                   

In either case, it is the document which created the burden itself which needs to be consulted for full details of the burden and, indeed, in the case of restrictive covenants, if may be necessary to obtain other filed documents for that, and other, titles, to determine the sequence in which land was sold to see who may be entitled to enforce any restrictive covenant.


Obtaining Official Copies of The Register of Title and Title Plan

Anyone is entitled, on payment of a small fee, to obtain a copy of the Register of Title and Title Plan for any title number. This can be done by completing form OC1 and sending it to the Land Registry. 


Obtaining Official Copies of Documents Filed at the Land Registry under a title number

Anyone is entitled, on payment of a small fee, to request (using form OC2) an Official Copy of any document filed under any title number if it is either (1) referred to in the Register of Title or (2) a document relating to an application made to the Land Registry.

How to fill in form OC2

The Register of Title will refer to certain documents if they, for example, imposed a restrictive covenant on the land or granted an easement over the land (such as a right of way) and will say COPY FILED if a copy of the document is filed under that title number (if a document is referred to and it does not say COPY FILED then that normally means that no copy is filed under the title number). In order to obtain copies of these "referred to" documents you simply quote, on form OC2, the document type (e.g. Conveyance, Transfer, Deed, etc.) the date of the document (which will be stated in the Register of Title) and the title number that the document is filed under. It is not necessary to give any further description of the document because referred-to documents can be instantly located by the Land Registry given just the type of document, date, and title number.   

Most historical documents filed under a title number (including documents which may shed light on precisely where a boundary is) are not actually mentioned in the Register of Title for that title number. If you happen to know the date of the "not referred to" document you are seeking you, again, just give the date of the document, and what type of document it is (e.g. Application Form, Conveyance, Transfer, etc.). If you do not know the exact date of the document you are seeking you can give an approximate date but in that case you should also give as much additional information as you know about the document - e.g. "Conveyance from Mr and Mrs Smith to Mr and Mrs Jones in the 1960s" to have the best chance of it being located. You can see that for "not referred to" documents there is no column for Title Number - this is because the Land Registry will only look in the Title Number you specified in box 2 at the top of the OC2 form for the document (if you want the Land Registry to look for the document in two or more title numbers then you have to submit an separate OC2 form for each title number). 

In response to your requests on form OC2 the Land Registry will either supply a copy of the document or else they will respond saying that the document could not be located from the information you supplied. If you were not able to specify the precise date of the document, and you get a response saying it could not be located from the information you supplied, that unfortunately leaves you not knowing whether the document is definitely not filed under the title number you quoted in box 2 or whether, whilst it has not been found under that title number based on the information you supplied, if only you had been able to supply more precise information it might have been located in the file for that title number.

Unfortunately there is no easy solution to this conundrum. The Land Registry will not provide a comprehensive list of the documents they hold for a title number and they will reject any OC2 request which says, for example "all conveyances from 1960 to 1970". You have to request one document per row on the OC2 form and all you can do is to provide as much information as you can about each document you are seeking. If you do not know the exact date of a document some ways in which you can try to find out the date are explained in the next three paragraphs.

You can submit an enquiry to the Land Registry. An enquiry is separate from an OC2 request so you can't ask for a copy of a document by making an enquiry but the answer to an enquiry may give you information which you can then use to fill in an OC2 form. The quality of replies from the Land Registry to enquiries varies but you will have the best chance of receiving a useful reply if you ask a focused question such as "I am interested in the position of the boundary between title AB123435 and CD654328. Can you tell me what Transfer of Part documents are filed in the date range 1960 to 1990 which may shed light on this?".   

Every title number will have been created as a result of someone submitting an Application Form to the Land Registry and you can request, on form OC2, "The Application Form which resulted in title number AB123456 being created" to get the earliest Application Form for a title number. You should not need to quote the date of the Application Form which created a title because Land Registry staff should be able to identify it without the date - it will normally be the first thing on the file. The Application Form which resulted in the new title number being created could be an Application Form for First Registration when previously unregistered land is registered for the first time, or it could be an Application Form to Change when part of land in an already registered title is sold off - this results in the creation of a new title number for the land sold off. An Application Form to Change submitted on a transfer of the whole of an already registered piece of land would not normally result in any new title number being created but, in the days before computers when the Land Registry used purely manual filing systems tied to the alphabetic prefix of title numbers, from time to time the Land Registry would change its manual filing systems and start using different alphabetic prefixes, and often would use the occasion of receipt of an Application Form to Change as a convenient opportunity to change the title number to the new format even if the transaction was a transfer of whole. This happened, for example, in the 1960s when titles number prefixes for registered land outside London were changed from P (meaning "provincial") to a two letter prefix identifying the county or region. So occasionally you may find that the Application Form to Change which created a new title number was in fact a transfer of whole rather than a transfer of part. In all cases you can request, on form OC2, "The Application Form which resulted in title number AB123456 being created" to get the earliest Application Form for that title number. 

The Land Registry has an essentially passive role, considering and processing Application Forms which are sent to it. Occasionally the Land Registry will do something of its own initiative, such as producing a new Title Plan in accordance with the latest Ordnance Survey map, but mostly changes to an existing title number only happen when someone submits an Application Form. So every time something happens to a title number there will normally be an Application Form, which is filed under that title number, and which you can obtain a copy of (using form OC2) if you know (or can find out by enquiry) its approximate date.        

When you obtain a copy of an Application Form, it may indicate that it was accompanied by a list of documents. If so, you can then request a copy of that list of documents - e.g. ask for "The List of Documents Form which accompanied the Application Form dated 1/7/2014". From the Application form itself and/or any accompanying List of Documents you will be able to see dates and types of documents which accompanied the Application Form and, now armed with the exact dates of these documents, you can then request copies, using form OC2, with greater chances of success than if you had to guess at the dates. If one of the documents listed is an Abstract of Title or Epitome of Title then when you get a copy of that, that will list further documents which you can then also request.  

In the past Land Registry staff would, where appropriate, have regard to what the obvious intention behind a request was and provide what it was thought the requestor was really after. For example, the first entry in section A (Property Register) of the Register of Title will, in nearly every case, have a date which is the date of first registration of the land now in the title number but this is not always the date that this title number was created because the current title number may have been created when a piece of already registered land was split in two. In the past if you had requested the Application Form for for First Registration of the title quoting a title number but that title number was not in fact created by first registration but was created when an existing registered title was split in two, the Land Registry would probably have supplied a copy of the Application Form for the original title number on the basis that that was probably what you wanted. But nowadays a less helpful approach prevails so it is important to be as precise as you can be when requesting a document. 


Missing Documents

Unfortunately documents are often "missing" and not filed under a title number. As well as the possibility of documents having been destroyed by fire or water or having been lost through clerical error, the Land Registry has, though different periods of its history, operated different policies as to what documents it required to be sent to it when an application was made to register land, what documents it then retained copies of, and what documents it simply examined and then returned to the applicant (or destroyed) without a copy being filed. For example at one stage the terms of restrictive covenants were simply reproduced in the Register of Title and a copy of the document creating the covenant itself was not filed. Only later was it realised that, for certain purposes, future landowners might need to examine a copy of the actual document imposing the covenant to appreciate the exact extent and effect of the restrictive covenant. The Land Registry has also, at times during its history, purged what were seen as unnecessary documents from its paper files only to realise too late that what it had destroyed might be needed in future. 

If you are looking for a "missing" document, there a number of places you can try.

1. When you request a copy of a document, using form OC2, you have to specify the title number which the document is filed under and the Land Registry will only look under that title number for the document. But if a document is not found under one title number you could try the title numbers of surrounding properties by submitting OC2 forms for those. You can use the Map Enquiry facility on the Land Registry website to find the title numbers of surrounding land. Quite often a document will be relevant to more than one title and so will be filed under another title. Based on local knowledge and/or the ages and types of various buildings you may be able to guess what might be the last piece of land to be retained by a landowner who originally owned a large area of land parcels of which have since been sold off. For example If there is a old large house and further houses have since been built in what must originally have been the grounds of the house then the title number for the old large house may contain conveyances relevant to the entire area including the area of land on which the newer houses are built. If you know the date and other details of the document you are looking for you can request a copy under that title number. 

2. Even if the land you are interested in is unregistered land it is often possible to find documents relevant to it filed under nearby registered land. Land is registered for the first time upon the first sale after compulsory registration was introduced in the area, so, in the example above of an old large house, it is possible that the large house has now been registered and will have conveyances filed under its title number which are relevant to surrounding land which, because it has not changed hands recently, is yet unregistered.

3. It you are not looking for a specific identified document but simply want to piece together the history of a piece of land and so are really looking for all conveyances before a certain date, you can start by obtaining the Application for First Registration and any accompanying list of documents to give you the dates of conveyances and simply submit OC2 forms for all conveyances mentioned, and for any other documents mentioned which might list further conveyances (such as an Abstract of Title of Epitome of Title) - and also for any further conveyances mentioned in the Register of Title. 

4. Landowners may have documents which were sent to them by their conveyancing solicitor filed away. They may be documents kept purely out of interest or may be kept because they contain important information of a type which would not be entered on the land register such as wayleaves and short leases. If the land is unregistered land, the original documents will also be proof of title and will be kept securely by the landowner often at the landowner's bank or building society. 

5. Sometimes historical land documents find their way to county record offices or the National Archives. 


Local Land Charges

Some burdens over land created by local authorities – district councils and London boroughs - known as local land charges are kept in separate registers. An example is a tree preservation order. Planning permission in principle benefits land by allowing specified development but when planning permission is given often it is subject to some condition (such as planting trees to screen a new building) and that condition is a burden. A management scheme under s.19 of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 (giving a residents' association some control over development and use of enfranchised freehold properties) is also a burden. The local land charges register does not contain any filed documents but only gives brief details of each charge together with a reference number and the address of an organisation (usually the local authority) from which further information about the charge and documents can be obtained. Such information can reveal matters beyond the immediate purpose of the charge such as who the occupier or owner of land was at a particular time, and how the land was being used.

Local Land Charges registers can be searched using the National Land Information Service (NLIS). In order to use NLIS you have to use one of NLIS' "channel" organisations such as www.thameswater-propertysearches.co.uk  


Other public sources of information about land

Historical satellite, aerial, and ground-level photographs and historical maps may assist in disputes over land, either by themselves or by shedding light on the layout of land at the time of a conveyance or transfer and thus aiding the interpretation of an otherwise unclear conveyance or transfer document.


Disclaimer

This information page is designed to be used only by clients of John Antell who have entered into an agreement for the provision of legal services. The information in it is necessarily of a general nature and is intended to be used only in conjunction with specific advice to the individual client about the individual case. This information page should not be used by, or relied on, by anyone else.

The information on this page about specific computer techniques is provided for information purposes only. Every reasonable effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate and up to date at the time it was written but no responsibility for its accuracy, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed by me. You should satisfy yourself, before using any of the techniques, software or services described, that the techniques are appropriate for your purposes and that the software or service is reliable.


This page was lasted updated in October 2017 Disclaimer