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Registering land in Oxford City Council

29.07.15

Oxford City Council has a significant land holding portfolio. This includes the housing stock of approximately 8,000 council houses, a large percentage of which were not registered with the Land Registry. The Voluntary Registration of title (VRT) Project which saw the Council contract with the Land Registry to register all unregistered land and property owned by the Council. This case study describes how Oxford has made their register of property holdings electronic and accessible:

Issue

Oxford City Council has a significant land holding portfolio. This includes the housing stock of approximately 8000 council houses, a large percentage of which were not registered with the Land Registry.

Solution

The Voluntary Registration of title (VRT) Project which saw the council contract with the Land Registry to register all unregistered land and property owned by the Council. Each registration was captured on a GIS layer.

The benefits for the council are:

  • state backed registration of the council's land holding, establishing proof of ownership
  • greater security of title, providing better protection against claims of adverse possession, making it easier to tackle unauthorised occupation
  • easy to read title documents reflecting the contents of the relevant paper title deeds
  • title viewable quickly and securely online
  • more efficient conveyancing, making transactions easier and potentially less costly for all involved
  • electronic land holding terrier (to replace the existing paper terrier) showing the extent of the Council's registered land holding, with each parcel of land labelled with the registered title number and deed packet reference number.
Recognising the potential for further efficiencies in terms of access to and storage of these documents, Legal Services worked with City Development and Corporate Assets to further develop the functionality of the Electronic Document Management System (EDMS). This included holding electronic scanned images of title deeds and other original documents essential to the council's business, against local address data including the Unique Property Reference Number.

The last piece of the jigsaw was improving access to the documents relating to the Council's land holdings and other legal documents, by making them all available electronically through the EDMS. Previously the copies were only in paper format and were relatively inaccessible. By making the information electronic, the council will
  • reduce staff time tracking down and providing copies of documents and managing the storage of the documents
  • increase speed of access to documents for legal and other transactions
  • freeing up the office accommodation the paper documents currently occupy.

Outcomes

The project has achieved the following benefits:

  • an electronic land holding terrier (to replace the existing paper terrier) showing the full extent of the council's registered land holding, with each parcel of land labelled with the registered title number, deed packet reference number and UPRN
  • integration of registered land holding information with other property records via the UPRN, so, for example, if the property is subject to a lease under which rent is due, the lease document is now linked to the Estates Management data and the Finance data
  • ease and increased speed of access to legal documents relating to Council's land ownership
  • documents available from the desktop to all Service Areas of the Council who need it; the need to retain more than one paper copy in more than one building has been removed
  • reduction in time spent locating and providing documents to officers and the public; the Legal Support team are able to use their time more efficiently as they no longer need to make trips to the secure deeds room to retrieve hard copy documents
  • reduced transaction time; the Lawyers are able to access documents instantly rather than have to wait for them to be delivered to them
  • documents accessible remotely, supporting flexible working, the EDMS system is available to officers working from home or in other council locations
  • improved security of original documents; the physical deeds room is in a basement that has been subject to flooding in the past; physical documents are subject to deterioration over time; the documents held in the EDMS are subject to nightly back up
  • reduction in number of documents stored; the exercise of sifting and destroying and scanning and indexing has reduced the need to store so many physical documents
  • the history of the address of a site will be maintained going forwards via the UPRN and the address look up
  • the customer contact centre will now able to look at a map and answer the question ‘does the Council own this property?' This means they no longer have to rely on the local knowledge of Officers or the paper ledgers which were previously used.
  • the council now has accurate up to date data to use if it wants to work with other public sector organisations to compare and rationalise the use of commercial property within its ownership.
  • the council now has accurate up to date data if a request for repair maintenance work is carried out and it wants to check that the council has liability
  • when the information is published on the internet, which is the intention, the council will be able to offer the self-service to the public as they will be able to see which properties are owned by the council
  • the council's land holdings records have now been compared with the Land Registry's records so the council can be confident that it has an accurate record which matches with Land Registry records