A Queen’s Speech proposal to centralise local land charge searches risks stripping councils of income while leaving them with unchanged costs, authorities have warned.
Both the LGA and Solace have objected, while the property search industry has accused the government of tackling an imaginary problem.
The Infrastructure Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday, would transfer statutory responsibility to the Land Registry for the local land charges register and for delivery of the searches made for almost every property transaction.
This followed a consultation last winter, when registry chief executive Ed Lester said these changes would “drive efficiencies in the services available for the public sector and within the use of land and property data in general”.
But councils fear they would still have to employ staff to collate the information locally, only to have to hand it to the registry to sell.
Solace director Graeme McDonald said: “There is a real risk that the government will nationalise income from this service but not the full cost of delivery.
“We would like to see assurances that this is recognised and councils continue to be fairly funded for their work in this area.”
The LGA said centralisation of land charges would be contrary to localism and “could have an impact on the quality of the services”.
It also raised concern about potential resulting redundancy payment costs and disputes over intellectual property.
James Sherwood-Rogers, chair of the Council of Property Search Organisations – which represents businesses that conduct searches for clients – said: “My members are by and large happy with the service they get from councils and the perplexing thing about this is that the government is seeking to tackle a problem that doesn’t exist in a way that gives no time or cost benefit to users.
“Councils are going to have to employ people to collate information at local level, but will lose the income they now have.”
He speculated that the government wanted to boost the registry’s income because it may wish to privatise it.