Unregistered land: Land charges

Though the majority of land is now registered at HM Land Registry, some land remains unregistered. This is because no transfers or other dispositions of the land have taken place for many years, which would trigger the requirement for registration.

When land and property is transferred, the buyer is subject to the registered charges that affect the land – unless they are removed or cancelled by the time the transaction is complete. So what are land charges in the context of unregistered land, and where are they found?

Nature of land charges

Land charges are interests in land as set out in the Land Charges Act 1972 (LCA). These are protected by registration on the Land Charges Register, which is one of five different registers kept by the Land Charges Department under the LCA 1972.

Classes of land charge

Land charges are divided by the LCA into six classes (A to F):

Classes A and B

These consist of charges on land arising under statutory provisions and are uncommon.

Class C

This class is subdivided into four subclasses. Note that those charges which fall within Class C are registrable as land charges only if they were created on or after 1 January 1926 (or, unusually, if the right was created before that date but was itself transferred to some other holder at a later time).

Class C (i): Puisne mortgage: A puisne mortgage is defined by the LCA section 2(4), as a legal mortgage which ‘is not secured by a deposit of documents relating to the legal estate affected’. If the mortgagee does not take the deeds, the mortgage is a puisne mortgage and should be registered as a land charge.

Class C (ii): Limited owner’s charge: This is a land charge which arises when a tenant for life or statutory owner under the Settled Land Act 1925, or another person with a similar interest, has paid inheritance tax under the Inheritance Tax Act 1984. Such persons may have a right to charge the repayment of the tax against the land and that right is a land charge.

Class C (iii): General equitable charge: This class of land charge forms a kind of ‘dustbin’ category into which fall equitable charges on property not specifically excluded from Class (iii) itself. Charges excluded, and therefore not registrable as land charges, include:

  • any charge which is secured by a deposit of documents relating to the legal estate affected;
  • interests arising under trusts;
  • any charge which falls into another class of land charge.

Class C (iv): Estate contract: An estate contract is a contract to convey or create a legal estate in land, or any option to purchase a legal estate or any right of pre-emption in respect of a legal estate. This is one of the more common classes of land charge. Various statutes have added to this category of land charges; for example, the Landlord and Tenant (Covenants) Act 1995, section 20(6) provides that a request for an overriding lease may be registered under the LCA as if it were an estate contract.

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For more information on:

  • Class D
  • Class E
  • Class F
  • Why are land charges important?