Land of opportunity

27 Apr 2005

The Land Registry is the government agency responsible for registering transactions relating to land and property in Ireland. It is responsible for two registries — The Registration of Title that dates back to 1892 and the Registry of Deeds established in 1708.

It provides security of title by maintaining folios in each parcel of land or property in the State. The title shown on the folio is guaranteed by the State, which indemnifies any person who makes a loss as a result of an error made by the Land Registry.

The Land Registry was one of the first agencies to embrace e-government with the launch of its Electronic Access System (EAS) that was funded by the Information Society Commission.

EAS was made possible because in 1997 the Land Registry embarked on a major overhaul of its systems. Dubbed ITRIS (Integrated Title Registration Information System) this involved a massive document management project as folios were scanned into an electronic format and stored digitally. As a result almost seven million paper folios can now be accessed in electronic format using EAS. The service is mostly used by specialist legal search firms, solicitors, financial institutions and others that need to check the title associated with a property.

The Land Registry has invested almost €20m in EAS, which was launched in 1999, but according to Michael Treacy, corporate services manager with the Land Registry, it has been money well spent. “We have doubled our output, the number of registrations completed, in the past five years with the same number of staff,” says Treacy. “People are able to work more efficiently because of the technology. Our annual wage bill is about €25m and without this technology we would need twice the staff to do our current levels of work.”

The service has also proven popular with Land Registry customers — it currently handles about 3,700 paid-for transactions each day and has handled well in excess of two million transactions since its launch.

The major project currently under way for the Land Registry is to add geographic and mapping information to the EAS that will fill a gap in its online services as it is not currently possible to search maps online. It also now accepts an average of 25pc of registration applications online — a figure that rises to 40pc in some parts of the country.

The addition of maps for all the folios held by the Land Registry is an ambitious project and will be phased in on a five-year basis as all the maps it holds are scanned and digitised. However, users of its service will benefit from the project this year as in the first phase it will provide “seed points” for all folios to show where they are located in the country.

“There will be no boundary information but if you know where a property is located you will be able to find out who owns it,” says Treacy. Users will be able to search for properties by simply clicking and zooming in on a map or alternatively they can do a text-based search using the address.

The second phase of the project involves the digitisation of maps on a county-by-county basis. Westmeath has been selected as the first county to have detailed mapping information. According to Treacy, Westmeath was chosen due to its size, mix of urban and rural properties and the fact that up-to-date maps were available. The project is currently at the procurement stage but has aggressive delivery targets.

This year will also see the creation of an electronic Registry of Deeds service that will make this available as part of the EAS. The Registry of Deeds went electronic in 1990 but it is getting a major technology refresh that will facilitate this move.

The agency also plans to integrate more deeply with its major customers so that instead of having to key in information and send it to the registry, its systems would be integrated and the transfer automated. The Land Registry also intends to offer its services to the wider public by integrating it with Reach’s Public Services Broker project.

The Land Registry’s pioneering position in e-government bodes well for the “e-conveyancing” project under way at the Law Reform Commission, which is conducting a total review of the system of conveyancing in Ireland.

“The Land Registry is positioning itself to be ready for this,” says Treacy. “Things such as stamp duty, the Companies Registration Office and so on are all starting to go online so why not put them together as part of an electronic conveyancing system. Our applications for registrations online are a precursor of e-conveyancing.”

By John Collins