As the General Register of Sasines approaches the end of its 400-year reign, big decisions lie ahead for property and land owners
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By Amanda Cameron and Susan McRitchie
Scotland’s General Register of Sasines is the oldest public register of property interests in the world, having been established in 1617. After 406 years in which it has efficiently served its purpose, it seems ironic that there is now a rather unseemly rush to do away with it.
But the hard fact is that there is now a deadline, dictated by the Scottish Government, that all property and land should be registered in the Land Register of Scotland, rather than the Sasines, by December 31 next year.
The Land Register was created in 1981, and it was envisaged then that the way land and property ownership is registered would change over an unspecified period of time, mainly happening when a property is sold, at which point a transfer is automatic.
However, in May 2014 Scottish Ministers set a target of registering the ownership of all of Scotland’s land in the land register by 31 December 2024. The hard fact is that this deadline is now fast approaching. The Land Registration etc. (Scotland) Act 2012 which commenced on 8 December 2014 provides for completion of the Land Register.
More than 40 years after its establishment, less than half of Scotland’s land mass has been included in the Land Register, and it is clear that new ways have to be found to add titles and speed up its completion, especially at a time when the market is slowing and, as a consequence, so are transfers.
Having said that, although it is often sad to see venerable institutions dismantled, the rationale for the transfer of information from the Sasine Register was becoming increasingly compelling.
Rather than a clear statement of property ownership, the Sasine Register is a chronological list of land deeds, often in centuries-old, hand-written descriptions and accompanied by vague plans of dubious accuracy.
The Land Register, in contrast, is map-based, using Ordnance Survey as its infrastructural underpinning. It is more concise, it can be searched online and it has the benefit of a clear title plan showing the extent of the holding.
To increase the chances of meeting target dates, the Land Register has been introducing new events which trigger registration, including the grant of a new mortgage or security; any transfer of land; and the grant of a lease for more than 20 years.
It is also promoting interesting initiatives, such as Unlocking Sasines, in which spatial data and indicative ownership extents are used to unlock historic information in the Sasines Register and link its search sheets to a map for the first time. This creates more visibility and is a “stepping stone” to the Land Register.
A trial is underway in Ayrshire, in which interested parties are sharing data in a serious attempt to map a lateral approach to achieving the desired objectives as well as creating a much better indicative information source than exists at present.
Our firm is excited to be working, along with other stakeholders, with the Land Register to expedite the interrogation of data from myriad sources – including Coal Authority, Sepa, Scottish Water, the Forestry Commission and local authorities – and to try to negotiate agreed and acceptable formatting.
This is not the first time DM Hall has contributed its expertise. In the past, it has helped with beta-testing a number of proposed strategies with the Land Register and the firm will continue to offer its services in the interests of an orderly and mutually beneficial modernisation of property data.
The other, major driver of this historic change is the offer by the Keeper of the Land Register to property and land owners to register voluntarily – and this is something that we, as a firm, would recommend.
Apart from a current 25% reduction in fees – which start at around £1,000 – benefits include a state-backed warranty on titles, the opportunity to define boundaries and security of ownership. Being registered first can also be of great advantage in the event of subsequent boundary disputes.
Owners face big decisions as the deadline approaches as well as the prospect of not inconsiderable expense so, as ever, the prudent first step is to seek impartial professional advice.
Amanda Cameron is a Partner and Susan McRitchie is an Associate and Legal Services Manager in the Dunfermline office of DM Hall Chartered Surveyors.Back to News