A new property fraud line has launched, allowing owners who are concerned their property might be subject to a fraudulent sale or mortgage to quickly alert the Land Registry.
Worried owners will be able speak to specially trained staff for practical guidance about what to do next.
The Land Registry regards fraud as a risk to its own business and has had to make several large payouts because of fraud. In 2011, half of the 52 claims paid out by the Land Registry for fraud and forgery were by non-family members. Of these, 22 involved properties with an absent owner and amounted to £1.5m out of the total £7.2m paid for fraud and forgery claims.
The organisation warns that the properties most vulnerable to registration or mortgage fraud are usually empty, tenanted or mortgage-free.
Individuals at a higher risk of fraud include owners who do not live in the property because they live abroad, are buy-to-let landlords, are in long-term hospital or residential care, or where a relationship has broken down.
Examples of property fraud include situations where a buy-to-let landlord gets a call from a local estate agent saying that one of his rental properties seems to be being marketed for sale or where a relative learns the property has been ‘stolen’ by a fraudster impersonating the deceased proprietor.
Alasdair Lewis, director of legal services at the Land Registry, said: “Fraud affects all parts of today’s society and everyone in it, costing this country an estimated £38bn each year.
“The Government has a zero tolerance to fraud against the public purse, but in order to fight fraud, everyone needs to work together. The need for everyone to play their part is just as relevant in the fight against property fraud as in other contexts.
“Our Counter Fraud Unit works closely with the police and other agencies to reduce the risk of property fraud. Since September 2009, our measures have prevented fraud valued at £52m but with an average indemnity payout of some £150,000, fraud is still a fundamental risk to our business.”
Additionally, as part of its commitment to a range of counter-fraud measures, Land Registry’s trial of a free restriction for absent owners is being continued. Around 5,000 properties have been protected in this way since the trial began in February 2012.
The restriction requires a solicitor or conveyancer to certify they are satisfied that the person selling or mortgaging the property is the true owner. There is no Land Registry fee for home owners who wish to register this restriction as long as they do not live in the property. Owner occupiers pay a small fee.
The new fraud telephone number is 0300 006 7030 and the line is now open from 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday. It can be used by relatives, neighbours or agents or the owner, a Land Registry spokesperson confirmed, but they will be asked for details of their relationship to the owner before a decision on action is taken.
An online reporting form is also available at the link below for customers who prefer to email or wish to contact the Land Registry outside business hours.
The line is not a substitute for reporting allegations of fraud to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 (who will pass your report on to the police) or for taking independent legal advice.