All property owners in England and Wales can set up property alerts with the Land Registry to notify them of any activity relevant to their property that passes through the Land Registry.
Who should set up alerts?
The short answer to this is everyone. Whether you own one property or have a larger property portfolio, you can set up these alerts and we would recommend that all our clients do so. However, the more properties you own, the more important this is. If you have properties occupied by tenants or properties which are unoccupied, the Land Registry alerts are particularly important, as these types of property are far more at risk and far more susceptible to fraud and often specifically targeted by fraudsters.
What is property fraud and who is most at risk?
There are many different types of property fraud and this is by no means an exhaustive list.
The Land Registry say you are more at risk if:
- your identity has been stolen
- you rent out your property
- you live overseas
- the property is empty
- the property is not mortgaged
- the property is not registered with HM Land Registry
To give a couple of examples, fraudsters have been known to steal property owner’s identities to acquire ownership of a property. In properties where the tenants are in actual occupation of the property, fraudsters have gone undetected as the property owner. The fraudsters, posing as the owner, then go on to sell or mortgage the property without the owner’s knowledge, disappearing after with the money. This leaves the real owner to deal with the consequences.
How do you set up alerts and what notifications do you receive?
Setting up a property alert via the gov.uk website is free and easy to use and will enable you to monitor the activities linked to up to 10 properties per account. It doesn’t have to be your property, it could be a relatives, or someone else’s that you look after (particularly useful for elderly relatives you want to protect). Once the alert is created, the account holder will receive an email notification each time there is significant activity (such as an application to change the register, notification that an application may be due, as well as an official search) on or against any of the properties listed.
The alert will tell you the type of activity, who the applicant is, and the date and time it has been received. This alert may be expected if you have dealings with the particular property, but if you don’t, these alerts can be crucial for detecting property fraud by notifying you of activity that you wouldn’t otherwise know about. An official search could be lodged up to 30 days before an application to change the register is made, meaning you have some time to seek advice and if necessary, intervene before a change is made.
For example, if you receive an alert that a bank has lodged an official search on your property, but you have not applied for a mortgage, you may want to seek advice and contact the bank (or fraud department) in question to tell them you are the owner and have not applied for a mortgage. If done promptly and before changes are made, investigations may prevent a mortgage fraud attempt.
Other ways to prevent property fraud?
Something else you can do to help prevent against property fraud is to ensure that your address for service on the register of your property is correct. We often see incorrect and old addresses on the title registers for properties owned by our clients when they first instruct us, particularly when they own multiple properties and have moved principle residence but not updated their portfolio entries. If you do not have alerts set up and your service address is incorrect, this would mean that you would not be notified of correspondence or notices from the Land Registry.
You can also apply to enter a restriction on your title. A restriction acts as a hurdle that the buyer will have to ‘satisfy’ in order to register their purchase or mortgage. For example, unless a conveyancer or solicitor certifies the application was made by you by providing a certificate, the Land Registry will not register the transfer.
There are lots of different types of standard form restrictions (as well as non-standard from restrictions) and only one or a few may be appropriate in the particular circumstances, so this would need to be decided on a case by case basis. A solicitor could help advise you on the most appropriate restriction/s if you are not sure.
In addition to the ‘normal’ process for deciding and applying for a restriction to be entered on the title of your property, in the Land Registry’s guidance on how to protect your land and property from fraud they have links to two specific forms to apply for restrictions:
- Business owners – a form for company owned property. This application is free to submit; and
- If you do not live at the property – a form for if you own the property privately (individual/couple/group) but you do not live there. The property may be unoccupied or occupied by a tenant. This application is free to submit.
The forms contained at points one and two above contain the wording of the restriction you would be applying to enter and you therefore may feel able to submit this application yourself. The guidance does mention an additional form if you live at the property, but you would like to put a restriction on the title as an extra protection against property fraud, but this form will require consideration and potentially drafting of an appropriate restriction. So, you may want to obtain legal advice on the latter to ensure that the correct restriction is entered and your dealings with your property in the future are not prevented or limited in any way.
Please note, that there can be costs associated with putting a restriction on the title. Depending on the form of restriction, there can be a fee to lodge the application (at present these are normally around £20-40 for standard form restrictions). If you decide to instruct a solicitor to help advise, prepare and/or lodge the application, there will also be legal fees to pay. Once a restriction is on the title of your property, a solicitor may charge you for providing a certificate if one is required by the restriction, so there may be future costs to consider when you come to sell or mortgage the property in the future.
How Moore Barlow can help
If you would like us to review and apply to update your details on any of your properties or advise and apply to enter a restriction on a title register, please do not hesitate to contact us.