By David Powell
Last updated: 17 April 2020
Please note, the following information has been prepared from the latest HMLR update on 16 April 2020 and replaces our earlier update on 31 March 2020, but may still be subject to change. For the latest information direct from HMLR, please click here.
The Land Registry has announced that their essential property transaction services, such as index map and official searches, are now being delivered with normal timeframes. Accordingly, they are now turning their focus to the other services which have been more significantly impacted. While this appears promising for all those waiting on pending registration applications to be completed, it is worth noting that they have simultaneously announced an extension to cancellation deadlines.
The Land Registry had initially extended all current cancellation dates until 1 June 2020, however, this has now been suspended until further notice. This extension suggests that the anticipated delays to application processing will be significantly longer than initially thought. This may also result in significant delays to future applications that are dependent on the completion of ones that are currently in process.
While the Land Registry continues to work to get back to their normal service standards it is increasingly important for all parties to exercise patience. As tempting as it may be to submit expedition requests, or to contact HMLR for updates, it is important to remember that each of these need to be processed in turn and are likely to create even longer delays, so should be kept to a minimum wherever possible.
Last updated: 31 March 2020
Following the government’s recent announcements aimed at combatting COVID-19, more and more businesses are moving to remote working and HM Land Registry (HMLR) is no exception. HMLR has announced how it anticipates its services to be impacted by the pandemic and, while some services are navigating the transition relatively seamlessly, others are experiencing more difficulty. The current circumstances are likely to exacerbate existing HMLR delays, so whether you are a client familiar with HMLR dealings, or not, the following is aimed at highlighting the nature of the service disruptions and how they will impact any ongoing or anticipated transactions. For the most up to date information direct from HMLR, please click here.
The majority of applications which HMLR receive are via the Business e-services portal, which is how most solicitors submit and receive registrations and standard searches. This service is being prioritised, so there should be minimal disruption to requests for bankruptcy searches, official copies of documents and priority searches. However, the applications that are expected to suffer a more significant disruption are those which aim to change the register in some way. HMLR anticipates that it will be unable to meet normal service standards for these services and at the moment it is unclear how significant the disruption is expected to be or how long it will last.
What does that mean?
Applications to update the register broadly fall into two categories: (a) register updates (for example, where a property is sold and the title is transferred, or where a mortgage is repaid and the title is updated to remove references to the charge), and (b) register creations (for example, where a new lease is granted, or where part of a property is transferred, in each case creating a new title).
To fully appreciate the impact of disruption to these types of applications it is important to first understand normal service standards. HMLR processing times vary throughout the year, but as at 27 March 2020, the average completion time for a register update application was 13 days and register creation applications had an average completion time ranging from 39 working days (first registrations) to 144 working days (new leases).
Applications are, therefore, already taking 6 months or more to be processed and the situation is expected to go from bad to worse following HMLR’s announcement that further significant delays to these types of applications are anticipated.
Why does this matter?
Legally, a disposal of registered property does not take effect until the relevant registration requirements are completed. This means that until an application for registration is processed and completed by HMLR, a buyer/new tenant will not be the legal owner of the property and, whilst a mortgage against the property will not be void due to failure to register, it could prejudice the bank’s priority position if not registered. Any delay in such initial applications will also hold up subsequent applications, which means that your ability to use the property may be restricted, because HMLR deals with all applications in the order they are received. For example, an application to grant rights or easements over the property, or to assign a mortgage to a new lender, will be unable to proceed until the initial registration application has been processed.
So, what options are available?
It may be possible, depending on the transaction and the parties involved, that a transaction can proceed if a copy of the pending application and confirmation of receipt from the Land Registry can be supplied, on the understanding that evidence of the updated title can be supplied once registered in due course. This will not assist in all circumstances because the risk remains that something is wrong with the initial application which could cause HMLR to cancel (and therefore ignore) the application.
Alternatively, HMLR allows requests to be made that they expedite an application. However, these requests are only considered if the delay is causing hardship or the delay is impacting another application. Evidence must be given in support of such a request, but it remains at HMLR’s discretion whether to approve the request. Clients should also note that even when a request to expedite is approved, it may still take several weeks before the application is processed. Given the expected delays to Land Registry services, it should be anticipated that more people will submit expediting requests which will necessarily further impact the completion times.
Where does that leave us?
Unfortunately, at the mercy of HMLR’s timescales. It is important that all parties understand the current average timescales and how COVID-19 is likely to impact them before proceeding with a transaction. Managing expectations and making contingency plans for significant delays will be extremely important.
It is worth highlighting that an application received by the Land Registry will have its priority protected while it is awaiting processing, so whilst there may be no progress with the registration, the interests associated with the applications submitted are still being safeguarded.
While we await further updates from the Land Registry, we are reminded that patience is key now more than ever.
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