Land Registry calls on law firms to reduce “avoidable errors”

Harlow: Not pointing finger of blame

The deputy chief land registrar has called on conveyancing firms to ensure they are not making “avoidable errors” on registration applications.

Mike Harlow said some firms had requisition rates of over 90%, while HM Land Registry (HMLR) raised requisitions by mistake in only 3% of applications.

Speaking on the Conveyancing Matters YouTube channel, Mr Harlow said there was “quite a difference” between law firms doing similar work.

“There are firms out there for whom this is not really an issue at all. Other firms have requisition rates of over 90%. It’s not endemic – it’s about certain firms recognising there is something they can do to help themselves and overall help the cost and time of [HMLR dealing with applications].”

Mr Harlow said one example of avoidable errors was inconsistent spelling of the same name.

He said HMLR’s new application process would catch some errors, such as applications made with the wrong title. It also had a thousand more people doing casework than a year ago.

Mr Harlow was speaking in the wake of a blog he published on the Land Registry website last month, in which he said HMLR sent around a million requisitions a year, more than half of which (579,000) in 2022 “involved one or more issues that could have been avoided”.

He went on: “This delays the application for an average of two weeks in the simplest cases and more than six weeks for complex applications.

“Sometimes it can be significantly longer, particularly if we need to go back and forth a few times over several months until we have received all the information we need from the applicant to complete the application.”

The blog had attracted criticism from conveyancers but Mr Harlow said it was “not in any way meant to be pointing the finger of blame”.

He acknowledged too that HMLR has a “significant problem with speed of service with applications to change the register post-completion” and improving this was its “number one priority”.

Asked by co-host Lorraine Richardson what support the Land Registry could give to firms with bad requisition rates, he said HMLR had account managers for the top 500 conveyancing firms by volume and was “talking to them personally”.

The other co-host, Stuart Forsdike, said his firm had received a “completely different answer” from two different case handlers about the use of an electronic signature in the same situation – one saying it was acceptable, the other not.

He said his firm received “far too many requisitions” and had decided it was an issue which should be tackled. He asked: “Could we have an account manager?”

Mr Harlow responded: “We would love to have an account manager for every single firm, but with thousands of firms, we have to draw the line somewhere. We’re not saying requisitions are perfect at our end either.”

Mr Harlow admitted that HMLR was “sometimes inconsistent”, particularly in the “more judgemental aspects” of the process.

Ms Richardson, a solicitor, is founder of legal training firm Adapt Law. Mr Forsdike is a licensed conveyancer and senior partner of PCS Legal.

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