Perhaps understandably, not much mention has recently been made of the issue of the title registration arrear in first registration ("FR") and transfer of part ("TP") applications. Whilst Registers of Scotland ("RoS") are to be commended on their speedy response to the pandemic and their rapid rollout of digital registration, this issue has not gone away and, indeed, a recent policy change at Meadowbank House gives rise to serious concerns.
The total arrear now stands at 94,649 cases, having increased steadily ever since 2018 when the new Keeper Jennifer Henderson undertook to clear what she then declared to be the unacceptable arrear of 40,000 cases. Some 53,000 of the current arrear cases relate to applications lodged prior to the pandemic, between 2017 and 2019.
RoS have, again understandably, struggled to make any headway against clearing the backlog of cases. Their latest policy, however, introduced at the start of this year, can only be described as discriminatory as it favours one set of customers, those lodging new FR and TP applications in 2021, over applicants who submitted their applications as long ago as 2017.
The rationale behind this policy is stated to be “ring fencing” the arrear to prevent new cases entering the arrear, which RoS believe will free up staff resources to begin to make an impact on clearing the older part of the arrear. While this may make perfect sense from the RoS point of view, it appears to have been done without any consideration or consultation of those affected, i.e. those who paid registration dues in 2017-2019 and are still awaiting their title.
Perhaps those solicitors with outstanding applications from these years should make their views known to RoS in the strongest terms? I can only imagine the censure from SLCC which would fall on the head of any solicitor who took money for a job in 2017 and had still not completed it!
The effect of this policy after nine months of operation is already clear. Although many more recent applications are being processed and completed, the overall arrear has still risen from 79,056 cases in March 2021 to 94,649 cases at the end of September. Meanwhile, RoS's own figures show that the number of cases cleared from the 2017-2019 part of the backlog over the four month period from the beginning of May to the end of August totals less than 2,500. At that rate, clearing even the pre-pandemic part of the backlog would take almost seven years.
Finding a solution to this crisis is now urgent. The Keeper has made various promises to clear the backlog, none of which have materialised. At the same time, the politically inspired 2024 Land Register completion project has been given priority in RoS pronouncements. Completion is still only 46.7%, with the latest month’s addition of 0.1%. It is obvious to everyone that this project is unachievable and should be ditched immediately. All efforts should be concentrated on clearing this unsustainable backlog.
J Keith Robertson, Kingussie
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