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Land Registry launches free security measure to help owners protect their property from fraudsters

Fraud continues to be of high concern for everyone involved in the property market. In particular it has been indentified that property most at risk is that which is not occupied by the owner, i.e. where they live abroad, let the property, where the property is vacant due to death or where elderly owners have moved into hospital or care. Empty mortgage free property is particularly at risk from fraudsters. In 2010, 30 of the 71 claims paid out by The Land Registry for fraud and forgery were by non-family members. Of these, 23 involved properties with an absent owner and amounted to £2m out of the total £7.3m paid for fraud and forgery claims.

To assist in combating this The Land Registry has issued a new initiative on a 6-month trial. Under this scheme individual property owners (not companies) who do not live at residential property they own, may apply to The Land Registry for a special entry to be made against the property title. This entry will require that on any application made against the title (for example to change the ownership or to register a mortgage) a certificate must be given by the conveyancer, certifying they are satisfied that the person who has signed the document submitted for registration is the same as the registered owner of the property. There is no fee charged by The Land Registry for this new service.

It is possible for other property owners to take the same action, however there is a registration fee payable of £50 in these cases, unless the application is made at the time of purchase.

In any case, property owners can help to prevent fraud by ensuring their address, for service in the property title, is kept up to date. Owners may have up to 3 addresses for service in the title, including an email address. There is no charge to update this information.

Malcolm Dawson, Chief Land Registrar said:
“We take the issue of fraud very seriously and work closely with other organisations including The Law Society to do all we can to reduce the opportunities for fraud and to identify and take corrective action when it has happened.
“Today’s initiative is free for home owners who do not live at the property. It is designed to encourage those who feel their empty or tenanted property might be at risk, to do something to prevent it from being stolen unawares.
“We have introduced a range of additional checks and safeguards in the last four years and work closely with other organisations to do all we can to tackle fraud. Whilst no system can eradicate fraud completely, since September 2009 we have prevented frauds on over 100 applications representing properties valued in excess of some £47m.”

Jonathan Smithers Chair of the Conveyancing and Land Law Committee at the Law Society said:
“We welcome this initiative by The Land Registry. Empty or tenanted properties are more at risk than owner occupied homes and the introduction of this scheme will enable solicitors to help owners to protect their property from fraud and forgery.”

For more information: E: susan.ellis@wards.uk.com

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