Who owns Scotland?

RoS’ enhanced approach to unlocking the General Register of Sasines.

The year has brought many challenges to the people and organisations of Scotland and Registers of Scotland (RoS) is no different. It has also given us the opportunity to reflect on how we continue to deliver our services and a chance to evaluate our tools, approaches and ways of working.

As we work to recover from the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID–19) completing the Land Register by 2024 remains our ultimate goal. I wanted to share with you our most recent thinking on a complementary approach which we hope will provide an additional way to answer the question ‘who owns Scotland?’ in a faster, cheaper way.

The benefits of a complete Land Register

I thought it would be useful to recap why we are replacing the 400-year old Sasines register with the Land Register.

There are two main benefits to being on the Land Register.

Firstly, it’s quicker and easier to complete property transactions. Secondly, it provides property owners with a state-backed guarantee of title with certainty for property owners on exactly what they own.

Beyond the benefits to the individual property owner, a completed Land Register will provide the country with a way to visualise all the property ownership in Scotland on a map.

This will ultimately help us to answer the question ‘who owns Scotland?’ and provide an evidence base to support effective policy development for matters relating to land in Scotland.

How are we completing the Land Register?

Completing the Land Register is not an easy task. The three current approaches that are used to transfer land from the Sasine register to the Land Register (first registration, voluntary registration and keeper induced registration) take skill and expertise.

This includes the actions of submitting solicitors, detailed knowledge from their clients, and registration expertise from RoS colleagues to map the property in detail and interpret underlying property deeds to deliver a complete, registered title sheet.

Each of these current approaches is underpinned by the Sasine data and it is this fact that has led us to identify a fourth approach to obtain a more rapid answer to the question ‘who owns Scotland?’

Unlocking Sasines

As explained above, the Sasines register already contains data on property ownership; the thinking we have developed over the past few months is whether we could unlock that data and make it more accessible.

We would seek to do this by collating spatial data to provide a visual representation on a map of where that property is, and its approximate extent, then link it to the Sasines data that provides ownership information. Doing this would enable us to provide information for most of the land in Scotland well ahead of it formally transferring from the Sasine to the Land Register.

This approach will also de-risk one of the known challenges with the current approaches to completing the Land Register, namely that many properties will not transact before 2024. This means that they will not come onto the Land Register through a first registration and many properties are not suitable for Keeper-induced registration; which leaves voluntary registration as the only mechanism for some land to come onto the Land Register by 2024.

We know that not all property owners will be able to afford the detailed work required to produce a voluntary registration application, so if we rely solely on the Land Register to answer the question of ‘who owns Scotland?’ there may be missing information. This additional approach will provide an enhanced level of information about those properties enabling them to be included in the answer to ‘who owns Scotland?’ even whilst they remain absent from the Land Register.

Benefits of this additional approach

Unlocking Sasines would enable us to provide an enhanced level of information on the likely ownership of areas not yet on the Land Register with a high degree of certainty.

We anticipate that the spatial data gathered on indicative extents of properties will also make it quicker and easier for RoS staff to identify the relevant Sasines search sheets. Allowing us to ‘match’ the spatial data to the textual description of the land in Sasines and enabling us to access the information on the last recorded proprietor.

Whilst this unlocked Sasines data will not have the same certainty as a fully registered title, it will be a very useful addition to inform policy relating to land ownership and could be easily accessible to the general public. Effectively, allowing us to fill in the gaps to allow us to help answer the question – who owns Scotland?

It’s also anticipated that if those properties which are covered by this approach ever do transact, the work done to unlock Sasines will be a very useful starting point for solicitors, making it cheaper and easier to prepare a first registration or voluntary registration application.

The way forward

To support this thinking, we have gone back to first principles; examining the benefits the completion of the Land Register was expected to deliver and considering how they could be realised in a different way.

While we are still striving towards 100% Land Register completion, we believe that this approach will more quickly and reliably deliver some of the benefits of Land Register completion and represent an effective use of the RoS resource.

Feedback from key stakeholders that we have met with so far has been extremely positive. I look forward to exploring further how we can share data, where possible, and uncovering opportunities to collaborate with other organisations to unlock the Sasine register and deliver greater benefit.

We are excited to start to progress this additional way of working. If you have any further questions or comments on this enhanced approach to Sasines you can direct them to me at rossecretariat@ros.gov.uk.

Best wishes

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