Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Monday, 30 March 2009 12:39 UK

Land register 'too open to fraud'

Legal document generic
Information on the land register has been open to the public since 1990

A major reform of property registration in England and Wales is needed to prevent "an exponential rise in fraud", a building society boss has said.

Nationwide executive director Matthew Wyles said: "The system is too open and needs a root and branch review."

Mr Wyles was responding to a BBC investigation which applied to change details of house ownership, without being asked for proof of identity.

Land Registry told the BBC it had an aggressive anti-fraud policy.

A BBC reporter wrote to Land Registry, the body which records the ownership of land and property in England and Wales, claiming to be the owner of an unmortgaged house in London.

Fake signature

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Using a bogus signature, the reporter asked for the property's correspondence address to be changed to Liverpool.

The property's real owner gave consent for the BBC to use their address.

Land Registry wrote to both addresses confirming the change to be made in 21 days. The owner was known not to be resident at the London address and so no objection was raised.

Last November Land Registry introduced new identity checks to be carried out on everyone involved in buying or selling property, but not for changes of correspondence address on the register.

The body has paid out £36m in compensation for mistakes and fraud since 2005.

If a review is not undertaken the cost of fraud can only rise and rise exponentially
Matthew Wyles, Executive director, Nationwide Building Society

Organised criminals have increasingly used Land Registry to help them transfer the ownership of a house fraudulently, to sell it or take out a huge mortgage on the property.

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Information on the land register has been open to the public since 1990 to enable smooth property transactions.

Mr Wyles believes the system needs a radical overhaul.

Protecting assets

He said: "I would be happy for a process to determine who the appropriate parties or channels would be for this information but I don't think it should be available for any Tom, Dick or Harry, who decides to write or log onto the Land Registry website and collect this information for who knows what purpose.

"If a review is not undertaken the cost of fraud can only rise and rise exponentially," he added.

Julie Jenkins, head of fraud at Land Registry, told the BBC: "We need to ensure there's a balance between protecting the individual and protecting the property and that's what we're here to do, protect people's assets - one of the most important assets they've got."

She added: "It's really important people keep their contact addresses up to date."



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