Professor Stewart Brymer WS, Brymer Legal Limited, Dundee and Edinburgh and the University of Dundee
At the time of writing this article, the Land Registration (Scotland) Bill has passed its final legislative stage in the Scottish Parliament and will now move to Royal Assent. This is anticipated before Parliament rises on 30 June. The Bill is a landmark reform of Scotland’s land registration system and is much needed. A range of matters is dealt with and its effect on the practice of conveyancing should not be under-estimated. A previous article, Greens Prop. L.B. 113 1-3, commented on the introduction of Advance Notices and also on the authorisation of electronic missives once the amendments to the Requirements of Writing legislation are brought into force by the new Act. Details of the roll-out timetable are awaited.
There has been considerable change in the practice of conveyancing over the past 30 years and more is to come. The debate on separate representation in secured lending residential property transactions has begun, see Greens Prop. L.B. 115 6-8. The increasing use of social media for the marketing of property for sale and other such developments also require to be considered. The challenging economic times over the past 5 years has focused minds on questions of cost and service. Clients want certainty and efficiency and are less tolerant of being told that things have always been done in a certain manner.
How certain and efficient is the current system for the purchase of a residential property however? On the whole, it is a very efficient system but there are areas of weakness that can be improved. Such an area of weakness is with regard to the accessibility of all relevant information that prospective purchasers and their lenders require to see in the course of a conveyancing transaction. Such information is generally available but it is accessed via a number of different channels and there is scope for certain information either falling between the cracks or else not currently being obtained other than through specialist search companies. See Landmark’s Plansearch product – www.landmark.co.uk which provides a guaranteed search against the property being purchased and also the immediately surrounding area. The Home Report also contains a lot of information that was not previously available to prospective purchasers which has to be a positive development – even though a thorough review of certain aspects of the Report is certainly required.
Historically, there were problems in identifying a property’s correct address due to different databases being used by Royal Mail, Ordnance Survey, Local Government and others. At its most extreme, emergency services identified instances where they could not communicate information effectively as a result of them using different form of the address. In order to resolve this a joint project between the Ordnance Survey and local government was formed to create a single National Address Gazetteer which consists of the AddressBase products. AddressBase went live with Scottish data on the 29th May 2012 and represents an amalgam of information from local authorities, Ordnance Survey, Royal Mail, the Valuation Office and other sources. AddressBase uses a Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN) to identify a property and all relevant information in connection therewith that is held by government at local and national levels. For Address Base to become fully functional, searchers will require to access it for a licence fee in order that they, in turn, can deliver searches to property professionals and the public. The important point to note however, is that this could be a single source of all relevant information about land and property.
This work is not being carried out in isolation however. The One Scotland Mapping Agreement is being re-negotiated and there is an increasing consensus that geospatial data is essential to increasing efficiency in Government. A bi-product of such efficiency is improved data on residential properties.
UPRNs will be as important as a Title Sheet Number and will be a necessary means of identifying a property. The SDLT forms already have a space for this information and it is suggested that details of a property’s UPRN should be provided by a seller as a result of an obligation in the Standard Missives.
In a previous article, Greens Prop. L.B 114, 4-5, it was suggested that ScotLIS might be where such information could be stored. This has been overtaken by the development of AddressBase however and it is suggested that Registers of Scotland may be best suited to this task. Registers has an inherent role in documenting title to land in Scotland and is also well-placed to provide a register of electronic documents and an electronic document exchange. See Scottish Law Commission Discussion Paper 154 on Formation of Contract – http://www.scotlawcom.gov.uk/
AddressBase will deliver considerable efficiencies across the public sector and, as a result, will improve the Scottish economy. The next step will be to consider how the ordinary citizen can benefit from gaining access to the information contained within the database eg information as to flood plains; e-planning; and other such matters.
Prospective purchasers need accurate information so that they can make an informed decision as to whether or not to purchase a particular property and a development such as this is to be encouraged. It is suggested that the next step is to identify inconsistencies in the current house buying/selling system and potential barriers to reforming the system.
Meanwhile other developments continue apace. One example, in Scotland, is the National Citizen’s Account which is a local authority’s electronic customer record of all details that the local authority needs to contact an individual. It contains a unique citizen reference number (UCRN) and is maintained by the National Records for Scotland through the NHS Central Register and confirms birth details etc. This provides trusted authentication for young people and the elderly of who they are when dealing with Government and accessing services. This could be of considerable benefit for Anti-Money Laundering procedures etc. if it were to be expanded and is worth exploring further. Is it such a leap of faith to consider us all having a National Entitlement Card containing a suitably authenticated digital signature? Is it not simply a logical development?