Reviews of the sites of the Registers of Scotland and the other UK and Irish land registries
A phrase you sometimes hear begins “Words cannot convey …”. Well, neither can I. I have never conveyanced so much as a garden shed. On top of that, Conveyancing II was the only subject I ever failed at university (sorry, Prof Sinclair). However, it appears that a great many solicitors are engaged in this line of work, and so I have braved the unfamiliar territory of the land registries in search of online goodies.
Registers of Scotland
On arriving at the RoS website, I was immediately struck with how well laid out it is. There is room enough for an attractive photo of the Forth Bridge (although it has presumably been some time since anyone has bought or sold that), the corporate logo, a welcome and links to the latest news items. There then follow five different subdivisions, each with a list of important internal links. Nothing remarkable there, except that it manages to do all this without resorting to scrolling or expanding menus, and without the front page looking overcrowded.
The first impression is therefore a good one. Would the rest of the website impress as much? In short, yes. The site faces the common problem of different audiences, i.e. it has to be informative and relevant to both the general public and the legal profession. My feeling is that it meets this challenge rather well.
The site is practically overflowing with information, much of it exactly the sort solicitors are likely to need to know. The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section is filled with questions which actually look like they may have been posed often. There is a large section on fees and charges and one of the highlights is the registration fees calculator. I was inclined to protest that a small table setting out the fees would have sufficed, but this approach was used elsewhere and I then found it boring in comparison to the calculator.
The main benefit of the site lies in its interactive services. To begin with, there’s eFORMS, which allows the practitioner to complete and submit Land Register forms online. Then there’s ARTL (or Automated Registration of Title to Land), which allows for online registration. As I say, I have no experience of this field, so I ran myself through one of the extremely helpful demos (remember to adjust your browser settings to allow pop-ups from ros.gov.uk) for a simple re-mortgage. I must confess to being very impressed as, if the demo can be believed, the whole ARTL process (including digital signature and payment of fees) can be completed in a matter of minutes.
In similar vein, Registers Direct allows you (for a fee) to access information in the Registers without leaving the comfort of your office. Again, the service offers to guide you through a demo before committing you to sign up. This is an excellent approach and not only helps you see how to operate the service, it also gives a clear indication of what you’re being asked to pay for before requiring you to do so.
Finally, Scotland’s House PricesTM (http://shp.ros.gov.uk) offers to sell you information about the sale prices of residential properties in any given area. This is of obvious utility to practitioner and client alike. While the sum charged (£3.88 per search) isn’t going to break anyone’s piggy bank, there are now websites which will provide the same information gratis: www.nethouseprices.com and www.ourproperty.co.uk for example. Registration is required (but free) for the latter website only.
Just a few quibbles. For a public sector website, there were a few accessibility issues – for example I noticed at least a couple of “click here” link titles (not very helpful when read out of context), and the colour scheme was not used consistently. Sometimes greenish-blue (teal?) text indicated a hyperlink, sometimes just extra emphasis – with no way of knowing which was which.
However, overall I’d give the RoS website high marks for its content (both useful and easy to find) and interactive services, with extra credit for the brilliant online demos.
Rest of the British Isles
Of course, your clients may wish to buy or sell property furth of Scotland, and you may occasionally have need to visit the Land Registries in England & Wales (www.landreg.gov.uk), Northern Ireland (www.lrni.gov.uk) or Eire (www.landregistry.ie). A cursory surf around each of these sites reveals similar themes and ideas to those found at their Scottish counterpart. However, the England & Wales version was not as carefully structured and appeared to be in a comparatively early stage of online services. Both Irish sites were pushing their online services too, but the NI site looked a little amateur – with links to major parts of the site effectively hidden from the user (click on the little arrow icon to the left of the text you think is the link!).