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
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.
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.
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.
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 by post. The Land Registry themselves do not allow you to submit the OC1 request form online: you have to send it in the post which, of course, causes a delay. However there are commercial services which have a link to the Land Registry which allow you to submit requests online and thus avoid the delay caused by using the post. Some commercial services charge the same, or only slightly more, than if you had submitted your request direct to the Land Registry, but some charge over five times the Land Registry fee, so check the fees when chosing which commercial service to use. One commercial service is www.thameswater-propertysearches.co.uk which, despite the name, covers the whole of England and is not limited to the Thames Water area.
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. However obtaining Official Copies of filed documents is not always straightforward. The Register of Title will refer to certain documents if they 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. However 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. In order to obtain copies of these you fill in, in the "Documents which are not referred to in the register" section of form OC2, as much information as you know about the document you are looking for and the Land Registry will look at the computer and paper file for that title number and see if the document can be found. If you know the the exact date of the document you want you can ask for "Conveyance from Mr and Mrs Smith to Mr and Mrs Jones dated 3/12/1961 filed under title AB123456" but often you will not know the exact date of a document so you may have to ask for, for example "Conveyance from Mr and Mrs Smith to Mr and Mrs Jones in about 1962 filed under title AB123456". 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 get the latter response, unfortunately this leaves you not knowing whether the document is definitely not filed under the title number you quoted 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.
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. All you can do is to provide as much information as you can about the document you are seeking including, if you possibly can, the exact date of the document. How to try to discover the exact date of a document is explained in the next three paragraphs.
Every title number will have been created as a result of someone submitting an Application Form to the Land Registry. That 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. 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 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, in the past, probably have supplied a copy of the Application Form filed under 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.
When the Land Registry inform you that a document you have requested using from OC2 cannot be found, they will do so using one of two standard letters. The standard letter which is used most frequently simply says:
Unfortunately your application has been cancelled as it has not been possible to identify the document(s) requested based on the information you supplied
without identifying which document it is which cannot be found. The second standard letter says, rather more helpfully:
Further to your recent application for an official copy, unfortunately the Conveyance dated 20 November 1956 cannot be located, so we are unable to supply the official copy requested. I appologise for the inconvenience this will cause you, but the deed is not referred to in the register
Both types of letter will state the title number which was searched for the document, so if you have only one outstanding request for a title number you will know which document could not be found. However if you have submitted several requests for copies of different documents within a title number, if you receive the first type of standard letter (which unfortunately is by far the most common) you will be left not knowing which document it is which could not be found. One way to get round this problem is to maike only one request per OC2 form and ensure that the Your Ref field is filled in. Then if you receive an uninformative standard letter in response stating that a document could not be found you will be able to work out from the reference number which document it was which could not be found.
The Land Registry themselves do not allow you to submit the OC2 request form online: you have to send it in the post which, of course, causes a delay. However there are commercial services which have a link to the Land Registry which allow you to submit requests online. One such service is as www.thameswater-propertysearches.co.uk
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 sent to it should be filed and what documents should simply be examined and then returned to the applicant without a copy being permanently 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.
Some pre-registration documents, such as conveyances, may be "missing" in the sense that when land is registered for the first time, the new landowner's solicitor has only produced to the Land Registry conveyances going back for a limited period of time (according to traditional unregistered conveyancing practice at the time which only required documents going back to just before the beginning of the adverse possession limitation period).
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. 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. If you have not, at this stage, identified a specific document but are looking for any conveyances relevant to the primary title number you are interested in, you can compare the List of Documents filed when each of the two titles was first registered to see which documents are on both lists and then request copies of those documents.
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. 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 in case they are useful. If the land is unregistered land, the original documents will also be proof of title and be kept securely by their bank or building society.
4. Sometimes historical land documents find their way to county record offices.
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
The Planning Acts - currently the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 - impose restrictions on new buildings and certain extensions and alterations to existing buildings, and on change of use of a building or land (e.g. from business to residential). An application has to be made to the local planning authority which can grant the application completely or with conditions, or refuse permission. If permission is refused an appeal can be made to the Secretary of State who normally delegates the decision on the appeal to a planning inspector from the Planning Inspectorate. Planning applications can be viewed and downloaded using www.gov.uk/search-register-planning-decisions and appeals can be found at www.gov.uk/government/organisations/planning-inspectorate though for older documents, only held in paper form, it may be necessary to visit the council offices to obtain copies. A planning permission application is (unless it is retrospective) an application for permisison to change the use of land and/or build on it, so it is prospective in that it seeks permission to do something in the future. Nevertheless planning applications may also reveal information about the then current use, and accompanying plans, though they may concentrate of future building for which permission is sought, may also indicate some features already present on the ground.
One of the easiest ways to obtain old Ordnance Survey maps of a location is using www.emapsite.com though if the OS map is over 50 years old you may be able to obtain a copy more cheaply from www.old-maps.co.uk Ordnance Survey themselves only supply current maps but their website contains a list of suppliers of old maps: www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/resources/historical-map-resources/archive-info.html
County Record Offices hold copies of other historical maps including Tithe Maps made in the mid Nineteenth Century, Turnpike Maps and Enclosure Maps.
Sometimes the plan attached to a conveyance or transfer of part will be a black and white copy of a Ordnance Survey map with the area being sold shaded in, or outlined, in colour. It can sometimes be useful to find out, by comparison with old Ordnance Survey maps, which OS edition was used. Sometimes the verbal description of the land in the conveyance will refer to OS numbers (field parcel numbers) without the plan being based on a OS map (or with the plan using a different OS map). If the conveyance does not itself state what OS edition the field parcel numbers are from, it is usually possible to work this out by looking at different 20th Century OS maps, because different OS editions produced in the 20th Century generally used different field parcel numbers.
Local authorities which are Highway Authorities (e.g. County Councils) maintain a map of Adopted Highways under the Highways Act 1980. These may provide useful information about the land you are concerned with if it borders a highway or has a highway passing through it. The same local authority will also have a Definitive Map of Public Paths maintained under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.
Free copies of historical satelite/aerial photographs can be obtained from Google Earth. Google Earth images are taken vertically and can be particularly useful if the exact route of a known linear object such as a wall or fence is of interest. But often aerial photographs taken obliquely (rather than vertically) are necessary to identify what an object is and these are not available from Google Earth and will have to be obtained, for a fee, from another source such as www.skyscan.co.uk
Google Street View is a well known source of street level photographs taken by the Google car which, periodically, is driven round the roads. To access Street View images, first go to maps.google.com and find the road you are interested in, then click and drag the yellow man symbol to the desired position and a historical image of that position will be displayed. You can click to move up the road and click-and-drag to rotate. The month and year of the latest available image will be displayed it the top left hand corner. If you are using a computer you can click on the clock symbol to display historical images (not available on tablets and phones).
In addition to public sources of images, such as Google Street VIew, the current or previous occupants of land, or neighbours and relatives who may have stayed, may have historical photographs.
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 January 2017 Disclaimer