Covid-19 - Land Registers Emergency Note to Practitioners 30 March 2020 (as updated 6 April 2020, 10 April 2020, 24 April 2020, 28 April 2020, 21 May 2020 & 18 September 2020)

The following note should be read in conjunction with Land Registers Revised Emergency Note to Practitioners 6 April 2020, 10 April 2020, 24 April 2020, 28 April 2020, 21 May 2020 & 18 September 2020 below.

Land Registers staff have not been designated under government guidelines as essential workers during the current pandemic. Land Registers is therefore closed until further notice. The LandWeb Direct and E-Registration services however remain currently available.
Practitioners are advised that Land Registry staff do not have the capability to work remotely. The legal team are nevertheless continuing to answer urgent and essential queries raised by practitioners at Solicitor.Enquiries@finance-ni.gov.uk. Solicitors should refrain from emailing the customer information email box as emails therein are not being monitored.

Applications are therefore neither being receipted nor processed and reliance can only be placed on the Land Registry and searches up to and including 18 March 2020. For the other Registers, reliance can only be placed up to and including 16 March 2020. Any applications currently received in Lanyon Plaza will not be noted on LandWeb as pending. These lodgements will be logged on to the LandWeb system in priority once normal operations resume.

For those practitioners who have recently completed transactions, or who continue to do so at their own risk, the following shall apply until further notice:

  1. The Lanyon Plaza building is closed and post is not being delivered. If solicitors post applications, it is likely that these will be returned to senders. Practitioners should therefore refrain from sending post to Land Registry. Solicitors should also not presume that post currently in the mailing systems has been delivered to the Registry once normal operations resume. Once the Lanyon Plaza building re-opens, solicitors are recommended to hand deliver applications or post those by guaranteed next day delivery.
  2. Practitioners can continue to access the electronic priority search service. Priority search applications cannot be processed until operations resume and will be dealt with in order of submission. The 40 day priority period will run from the date that the Land Registry is reopened. Priority will be designated in the following order:

    a. Applications, correspondence and priority searches received in Land Registry on or before 24 March 2020.

    b. Electronic priority searches applications received on or after 25 March 2020 in the order of submission, up to and including the day prior to the day of the re-opening of Land Registry.

    c. All other applications, correspondence and priority searches received on and after the day of the re-opening of the Land Registry.
  3. Solicitors can continue to lodge applications through the e-registration service. To assist solicitors, Land Registry has suspended the 21 day timeframe to lodge the paper documentation. Practitioners are reminded that the lodgement of applications through the e-registration portal does not provide priority and the paper documentation should be immediately lodged with Land Registry once normal service resumes.
  4. Compulsory first registration applications will be granted extensions of time until further direction.
  5. Suspense accounts cannot be topped up by bank transfer during this period as staff are unavailable to complete reconciliations. Solicitors however can continue to use LandWeb Direct services by using credit or debit card.

Our IT supplier is endeavouring to provide full technological support during this period. Users who experience any difficulties with account issues, access or account resets should contact the solicitors enquiries email box and queries will be dealt with as soon as possible.

We are endeavouring with our IT supplier to obtain some remote working but this will take time to resolve and may be limited.

Upon resumption of normal operations, staff will be primarily deployed to log applications on to LandWeb and process priority search applications. The registration of applications may be slower in the short term, but staff will endeavour to have normal service resumed as quickly as possible.

Land Registry continues to work closely with the Law Society as the situation progresses. Further direction may be issued in due course.

Your co-operation during this difficult time is appreciated and we wish good health to you and your families during this unprecedented period.

Christine Farrell
Registrar of Titles
30 March 2020

Land Registers Revised Emergency Note to Practitioners 6 April 2020

To be read in conjunction with Land Registers Revised Emergency Note to Practitioners 10 April 2020, 24 April 2020, 28 April 2020, 21 May 2020 & 18 September 2020 below

As practitioners are aware, the Lanyon Plaza building is currently closed. Over 1,000 staff work in Lanyon Plaza and to protect the health and safety of those staff and to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the Land & Property Services Management Board of which I am a member, took the difficult decision to close the building from Wednesday 25 March 2020.

After engagement with our IT supplier and UK Finance, I forwarded a draft emergency note to the Law Society on Thursday 26 March 2020 which after extensive consultation was published on Monday 30 March 2020.

Over the last number of days, myself and a very small team of Land Registry staff volunteers have worked continuously to log the outstanding post onto the LandWeb system. I am pleased to say that all Land Registry applications received prior to closure have now been logged on to the system. Accordingly, paragraph 3 of the Emergency Note to Practitioners is hereby varied as follows:

“Applications are neither being processed nor receipted and reliance can be placed on the Land Registry and searches up to and including close of business on 24 March 2020. Reliance can be placed upon the Registry of Deeds up to and including 18 March 2020 and upon the statutory charges register and ground rents register up to and including 16 March 2020.”

In all other regards the original emergency note to practitioners of 30 March 2020 stands.

I appreciate that the current position that Land Registry finds itself is not ideal. Operations are primarily paper based and the current pandemic has highlighted the need for all of us to embrace new digital ways of working which we intend to take forward in the replacement of LandWeb.

As it currently stands, practitioners should note that 170 staff work on one floor, which is at full capacity, to enable on average over 8000 applications per month to be processed. The maintenance of the registers is not only a large-scale operation but as a number of teams rely on interdependency to enable applications to be processed, it is also complex.

Whilst I understand that some lending institutions are continuing to lend during the current pandemic, I will continue to work with UK Finance, lenders and practitioners to address any issues that may arise.

I am also working closely with our IT supplier in relation to a remote working solution which may enable priority searches and current applications to be processed in due course. This should provide some assistance, but will be limited as over 60 staff are involved in processing the intake of post, fees, scanning and dispatch and these functions cannot be carried out remotely.

For those practitioners who have priority search notes currently registered on the Land Register, Rule 188 of the Land Registration Rules states that where the Land Registry is not open for business, priority shall expire on the next day on which the Registry is open. It is understandable that this may present practical difficulties for solicitors once the Lanyon Plaza building re-opens. Accordingly, solicitors may resubmit another priority search application electronically. Land Registry will refund this fee in due course. If a resubmission is made, details should be provided to us at Solicitor.Enquiries@finance-ni.gov.uk.

The current arrangements will be kept under review and further direction may be issued in due course. I hope in the meantime that you and your families remain in good health.

Christine Farrell
Registrar of Titles
6 April 2020

Land Registers Revised Emergency Note to Practitioners 10 April 2020

To be read in conjunction with Land Registers Revised Emergency Note to Practitioners 24 April 2020, 28 April 2020, 21 May 2020 & 18 September 2020 below

Over the last number of days, myself and a small team of Land Registry staff volunteers have worked continuously to log the outstanding post on to the Registry of Deeds and Statutory Charges registers. I am pleased to say that all applications received by post prior to closure have now been registered.

Accordingly, paragraph 3 of the Emergency Note to Practitioners of 30 March 2020 (as revised on 6 April) is hereby varied as follows:

"Applications are neither being processed nor receipted and reliance can be placed upon the Land Registry, Statutory Charges Register and the Registry of Deeds and searches up to and including close of business on 24 March 2020. Reliance can be placed upon the Ground Rents register up to and including 16 March 2020."

In all other regards the original Emergency Note to Practitioners of 30 March 2020 stands.

In addition, staff were also able to top up a number of solicitors’ suspense accounts and those firms have been advised by email accordingly. Land Registry managers have also been engaged with our IT supplier in the development of a solution to enable suspense accounts to be topped up without the intervention of staff. A prototype is currently being tested remotely by staff and it is hoped that this will be made available to a small number of firms over the next number of days for piloting. If successful, our IT supplier intends to migrate this solution to solicitors firms in small batches in due course. Further information in relation to this will follow.

The Law Society in the 2020/13 publication of the Conveyancing and Covid-19 update has indicated that it is pressing for the Land Registers to return to full functionality. A full service would require the majority of our staff to return to the workplace and interact at close proximity. As I am not willing to place the health and safety of our staff, others and, in particular, NHS workers at risk, practitioners should note that it is unlikely that Land Registry will re-open in the short term. Arrangements are being drawn up for the phasing in of reduced working for key services, but it is not likely that these will come in to operation until after the peak of the pandemic passes. Details will follow in due course.

In the meantime, engagement with UK Finance and the lending institutions continues and it appears that a number of lenders are satisfied with the arrangements that Land Registry has put in place.

At this stage I would like to thank the team of volunteers who worked with me on site over the last several weeks to update the registers. In addition, the Deputy Registrar, the legal team and a group of managers have worked long hours to answer queries from practitioners, financial institutions and members of the public for which I am thankful. Our IT supplier has also provided an exceptional and prompt service during this period and, in particular, has engaged with solicitors to provide training sessions on user functionality which is over and above their current role. Again, I appreciate their assistance and efforts.

I hope to revert to practitioners with an update shortly. In the interim I wish everyone well over the Easter period.

Christine Farrell
Registrar of Titles
10 April 2020

Land Registers Revised Emergency Note to Practitioners 24 April 2020

To be read in conjunction with Land Registers Revised Emergency Note to Practitioners 28 April 2020, 21 May 2020 & 18 September 2020 below

I am pleased to advise that testing on the enhanced LandWeb Direct system has been completed. This will provide solicitors with new functionality including the facility to top up their suspense accounts through use of card payments. A phased roll out will commence on Monday 27th April 2020 to some practitioners who will be piloting the application. The plan is to initially roll out the application to key users within each solicitor firm, with a full roll out happening over an extended period.

To enable the service to go live, the LandWeb Direct and e-registration services will not be available on Saturday 25 April 2020 and potentially Sunday 26 April 2020. Our IT supplier will post an update on the LandWeb Direct News Section to advise accordingly.

If a solicitors’ firm wishes to be involved in the scheme please email Solicitor.Enquiries@finance-ni.gov.uk and we will assess each case on the basis of current funds available and previous use of suspense accounts.
In all other regards the original Emergency Notes to Practitioners of 27 March, 30th March and 10 April 2020 still stand.

A further update on Land Registry services will follow in due course.

Christine Farrell
Registrar of Titles
24 April 2020

Land Registers Revised Emergency Note to Practitioners 28 April 2020

To be read in conjunction with Land Registers Revised Emergency Note to Practitioners 21 May 2020 & 18 September 2020 below

I am pleased to advise that the roll out of the new enhanced LandWeb Direct service commenced on Monday 27 April 2020. Practitioners have been able, amongst other features, to successfully top up suspense accounts by card. Our IT supplier will continue to roll out the application to key users of each solicitor’s firm with a full roll out happening over an extended period over the coming weeks.

Further to my note to practitioners of 10 April 2020, the position has been reviewed. Accordingly, from 11 May 2020, DX and Royal Mail post will be accepted for delivery to Lanyon Plaza for the following services:

  1. Registry of Deeds applications
  2. Statutory Charges applications
  3. Map approvals
  4. Map searches
  5. Topping up of suspense accounts
  6. Copy document requests
  7. Cautions against first registration

Applications for these services will be accepted from Monday 11 May to Friday 22 May 2020 at which time services will be reviewed. In preparation, staff will be in attendance in Lanyon Plaza from 4 May 2020 to implement health and safety measures.

In order to support social distancing, Land Registry is unable to accept delivery of applications by hand and Lanyon Plaza will continue to remain closed to all members of the public at this stage. As there will be substantially reduced staffing in place, it is imperative that solicitors lodge accurate applications as the normal procedures for rejections will apply. Any applications that are received outside of this list will be returned to sender.

Further direction will be given as to the next phase of the introduction of key services prior to 22 May 2020. In the interim, priority search applications should continue to be lodged electronically and the previous practice notes in all other regards still stand.

Christine Farrell
Registrar of Titles
28 April 2020

Land Registers Revised Emergency Note To Practitioners 21 May 2020

To be read in conjunction with Land Registers Revised Emergency Note to Practitioners 18 September 2020 below

Further to my note to practitioners of 28 April 2020, I am pleased to advise that good progress has been made in the processing of the applications for the 7 key services detailed in the note.

Since then, the new LandWeb Direct service which enables users to top up accounts by card, amongst other features, has been rolled out to over 50 firms and feedback has been very positive. All requests for the topping up of suspense accounts by post and bank transfer are also currently up to date.

A remote solution for the registration of applications has also now been rolled out to the majority of casework staff. Piloting of the solution requires caseworkers to process in a live environment. Accordingly, a number of existing cases have been selected for processing and some solicitors will receive confirmation that applications have been registered. Alternatively, queries will be raised as appropriate.

In relation to services going forward, I am pleased to advise:

  1. Solicitors can continue to lodge applications for the 7 key services.
  2. Land Registry will from today accept correspondence (including objections) for existing cases.
  3. The Land Registry telephone line (0300 200 7803) will re-open for calls on 26 May 2020.
  4. Preparatory work has been taking place in relation to priority searches. From 8 June 2020 (“the re-opening date” as per practitioners note of 30 March 2020), the following will apply:

    - Any priority note currently registered on the Register with an expiry date on or after 25 March 2020, will have an expiry date of 8 June 2020 in accordance with Rule 188.

    - Any priority search application received in the Registry on or prior to 24 March 2020 but not yet registered, will have a priority period of 40 working days from 8 June 2020.

    - Any priority search application lodged in the Registry from 25 March 2020, will have a priority period of 40 working days from 8 June 2020.

    Draft priority notes will be entered on to the Register prior to 8th June 2020 to enable speedy registration from 8 June 2020 and priority search certificates willstart to issue from 8 June 2020.
  5. Practitioners are advised that from 8 June 2020, service for new priority search applications will resume. Solicitors should lodge electronic priority searches where possible.
  6. Land Registry will accept all new applications for the Land Registry Register from 8th June 2020. In the interim, practitioners may post their new applications for the Land Registry Register but these will be held and deemed received on 8 June 2020.

To curb the spread of coronavirus and support social distancing, the Customer Information Centre will remain closed at this stage and post will only be accepted by DX and Royal Mail.

Practitioners should note that reduced staffing levels to enable social distancing may impact upon the time required to deal with all transactions. It is therefore imperative that solicitors lodge accurate applications to enable cases to be dealt with in an efficient manner.

I would like to thank all Land Registry staff for all of their hard work both on site and remotely since 24 March 2020. I would also like to thank the profession for their patience and understanding through this difficult period.

Christine Farrell
Registrar of Titles
21 May 2020

Land Registers Revised Emergency Note To Practitioners 18 September 2020

Further to the Land Registers’ emergency note to practitioners of 30 March 2020, the current position has been reviewed. From 1 October 2020 the following will apply:

  1. Land Registry is reinstating the requirement for solicitors to lodge the paper documentation within 21 days of the submission of e-registration applications.
  2. Extensions of time will no longer be granted for compulsory first registration applications except at the discretion of the Registrar.
  3. Abandonment of applications will re-commence and caseworkers have now been instructed to send a 25 working day reminder in cases awaiting replies from solicitors.
  4. Solicitors should ensure that only complex queries are sent to the solicitor enquiries mail box. All other queries should be sent to the customer information mail box: landregistration@lpsni.gov.uk.

The Lanyon Plaza public counter re-opened on 1 July 2020 to law searchers. The counter remains closed to the legal profession and members of the public until further notice. However, the postbox at reception is now available for drop-off of mail.

Your co-operation has been appreciated over the last number of months and I hope that you and your families remain safe during this unprecedented time.

Christine Farrell
Registrar of Titles
18 September 2020

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