Government plans to privatise the Land Registry may be back on

Mon 21 Dec 2015 by Tony Lilleystone

Written by Tony Lilleystone

The Chancellor could be reviving plans to privatise the Land Registry

The previous coalition government had produced plans to privatise the Registry but these were dropped last year after opposition from many quarters, but Chancellor George Osborne has apparently now asked investment bank Rothschild to examine options for a £1bn-plus sale of the organisation.

It is reported that the Chancellor will outline plans to explore a partial sale of the Land Registry in next week's Autumn Statement, although officials from the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills declined to comment on the process.

The Land Registry is currently a government agency and maintains details of millions of property titles throughout England and Wales. All property transfers have to be reported to the Registry as well as mortgages and most other transactions affecting land.

Previous privatisation plans were strongly opposed

The Registry is financed from the fees charged to buyers and others using its services. Concerns were raised previously that a private company would seek to raise these fees in order to maximise profits.

Opposition to privatisation also came from organisations representing property owners and mortgage lenders, as well as solicitors, who were concerned that a private company operating the Registry might sell confidential information about property owners.

The Land Registry employs thousands of staff, who are currently civil servants. Previous sell-off proposals during the last parliament triggered a sizeable revolt from the PCS union and a walk-out protest at the plans in May 2014.

The present government, and Mr Osborne in particular, seem keen to push ahead with the sale of as many government assets as possible. Large chunks of the banking industry which fell into government hands during the 2007 crisis have now been sold off, and more sales are in the pipeline.

So we should not be too suprised if the Chancellor does resurrect plans to sell the Land Registry. Previous reports have estimated the Land Registry's value at £1.2bn, with it having recorded a surplus of almost £100m in 2012-13, so it would be a tempting target for investors.

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