Rural Law

I first blogged on this topic following an event at Registers of Scotland a year or so after the Scottish Ministers asked Registers of Scotland to complete the land register by 2024. At that time, the scale of the task ahead had just begun to sink in with everyone involved in registering property in Scotland. Almost 4 years into the 10-year timescale for completion, how are things going?

Looking firstly at the stats. In 2015, just 26% of Scotland’s land mass was on the register. By the end of 2017, that had increased to 30.9%. Overall, not exactly a stunning dent in the target, but some progress.

A big part of Registers of Scotland’s completion strategy is to encourage voluntary registration by private landowners and a large number have already sought to do so. However, it has not been without challenge for many. Whilst this is all very interesting (or not, as the case may be), the main issue for us on a day-to-day basis is the actual process of registration.

Why do I say that? As property lawyers, our job is to get clients’ properties accurately onto the register with the minimum level of delay and expense – and that is only feasible if the systems and processes of registration work for us and our clients. That is much more important than a statistic about how much of Scotland is actually on the register – albeit there is no doubt that in the long-term a completed land register will benefit us all.


The nitty gritty of registration

I appreciate that a blog about registration process is not exactly gripping stuff, but bear with me. Some readers may be aware that in November 2014 new legislation was brought into force which fundamentally changed the rules relating to registration. Whilst most of that is technical and should be for us lawyers to worry about (that is what you pay us for, after all) there are some issues, particularly around mapping, which have presented extra challenges, especially for large rural estates. Being freshly back at the coalface after maternity leave and keen to ascertain how things are going, I’ve been canvassing opinion with my colleagues as to whether or not things are getting any easier…

Some good news

It is looking like Registers of Scotland are going to change their policy so that voluntary registrations are no longer automatically rejected if there is an overlap with an existing registered title. Instead, the overlapping area will simply be excluded, if the submitting agent agrees. This might seem like a small change but it’s actually a massive improvement – as previously large-scale registrations were being rejected simply because of a single tiny overlap, causing unnecessary delay and cost due to the need to re-map and re-submit.

ScotLIS is a hit. We love it and you should too. It allows quicker and easier access to title information which can only be a good thing. My colleague Alan Gibson blogged on ScotLIS previously so, if you missed that, do check it out. I challenge you to resist the urge to put your own postcode into the search function and check out your house and that of your neighbours…

Registers of Scotland have updated the form of application for registration. Again, techy stuff so I won’t go into detail, but this has made life a bit easier.


Room for improvement

The number of applications rejected by Registers of Scotland remains frustratingly high, despite some of the changes I’ve already mentioned. To be clear, we lawyers know that we can’t send the Registers any old rubbish and expect them to accept it. We do our best to hold up our end of the bargain by submitting sensible applications – but despite our best efforts we are still getting more of those depressing rejection emails than we’d like.

Although voluntary registrations won’t be rejected if there is an overlap (as I mentioned above), other applications for first registration aren’t so lucky. This means that if your registration results from a “trigger” event, any overlap will result in the application being rejected i.e. a transfer of title/purchase/security (NB my colleague Karen Barclay’s recap on land registration sets out the various “triggers” for registration). Obviously we and our clients strive to ensure that the mapping process is sufficiently robust so as to avoid this happening; but it does occasionally happen and that means extra work to re-map and extra costs and delay. Moral of the story: don’t skimp on the mapping – do a thorough job the first time.

That takes us neatly to the Plans Assistance Service offered by Registers of Scotland. There’s no doubt that it is good; but it is slow and therefore the general consensus is that it’s not brilliant if you’re in a hurry. Hopefully this useful service will receive more resource going forward.

Lorna McKay

Associate at Brodies LLP
Lorna is an Associate in Brodies’ land and rural business team. Lorna is experienced in a range of rural property matters including the purchase and sale of farms, estates and woodland, agricultural
holdings, fishings and trust and executry conveyancing. 
Lorna McKay