Mike Harlow talks about HM Land Registry’s change programme

Mike Harlow

It is a huge privilege and responsibility to be part of the leadership of HM Land Registry (HMLR) at this important time. I have worked in the property industry all my career. For 14 years, I was a lawyer in private practice using HMLR’s services. I know the trust and confidence that HMLR provides the market through its clear, secure and accurate records. I know that comes from the care and expertise of our experienced colleagues. I know how reliant the country is on the proper functioning of land registration.

What surprised me when I joined HMLR was the true scale of its role. We have this year estimated that the 25.5 million titles in the register covering 86.6% of England and Wales are worth £7tn, and that more than £1tn of debt is secured on them.

Why the transformation programme is so important

The country’s greatest single asset is its land, and yet the property market is significantly slower, less well-informed and less efficient than others, such as the share market. New technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain, present a great opportunity to allow businesses and people to make faster and better buying decisions and to transact and borrow against land with more confidence, greater ease and lower overall cost.

Land in England and Wales is our primary resource for life. It provides our homes, our food, a place for our businesses, as well as space for recreation, natural beauty, heritage and our infrastructure. The way we enable land to be owned and sold fundamentally affects our social wellbeing, our environment and our prosperity.

Land registration gives people control and flexibility in their ownership of land. It supports housing, mobility, business development and inward investment.

The importance of making the most of this vast and permanent asset right now cannot be overstated.

HMLR has an ambitious strategy to capitalise on the revolution in digital technologies and become the world’s leading land registry for speed, simplicity and an open approach to data.

We want to be world leading to enable the property market in England and Wales to be the best it can be. We want to use the latest technology to help the market be better informed, simpler, faster and cheaper. All the while, we know we must maintain trust and confidence by being brilliant at the basics. This means always continuing to create and maintain a clear and secure record of who owns what.

The risks of our change strategy

Our primary role of providing accurate and secure records and enabling safe transactions must not be put in peril. We are investing in our risk and assurance framework to bring it in line with best practice. This will ensure we can deliver our transformation confidently and at pace.

We are mindful of the possibility of income volatility in the coming year. We have reviewed our response to the fall in property transactions after the financial crisis in 2007/08 and examined key expert forecasts. We have robust mitigation plans in place aimed at maintaining momentum in our transformation and safe continuity of service.

Our key areas of focus

HMLR must hold fast to its core purpose and values that underpin market confidence, while rethinking how services can be provided, starting with digital data and new technologies in mind.

We cannot do this alone, though. Land registration is just one crucial cog in an intricate machine. The way we change what we do must mesh with the other moving parts in the property market.

There are many parties involved in property transactions. They include owners, developers, lenders, agents, lawyers, surveyors, insurers, removers and so on. It is currently a complex process and there are many representative and regulatory bodies in the sector. HMLR is determined to play its role in showing leadership in the industry to drive and catalyse innovation to make conveyancing simpler, faster and cheaper for all.

If you want to know more…

…about HMLR’s work, read our series of articles by colleagues at HMLR. Recent articles have covered reducing requisition rates, Digital Street and the execution of deeds or documents using electronic signatures.