Are your GP Surgery freehold title deeds up to date?

Keith Shorten
Stock image of a doctors surgery

In England and Wales, it is only possible for a maximum of four persons to be listed as the legal owners of land/property with the Land Registry. Where land/property is held by more than four persons, section 34(2) of the Law and Property Act 1925 provides that the land is to be held in trust for the benefit of all persons who have a beneficial entitlement to the land/property.

Stock image of a doctors surgery

Unfortunately, the updating of the names listed on the title deeds can sometimes be overlooked when there is a change in the property owning partner(s) of the GP Surgery freehold. This could be on the retirement or death of a named partner and if not addressed in a timely manner can cause issues and incur extra legal costs at a future date, e.g. when looking to raise a loan secured on the property.

There is now another issue which could arise if the listed names are not up to date!

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) operates an online Trust Registration Service (TRS) which provides a single point of access for trustees and their agents to either register a new trust or for an existing trust to comply with their registration obligations under anti-money laundering regulations. The initial phase of the service only applied to UK trusts if they incurred a tax liability in a given tax year.  This means that up until recently there has been no obligation to register for land held in trust, but as the scope of the Trust Register has now been extended to most UK trusts that were in existence at 6 October 2020, regardless of whether the trust has to pay any tax, action may now be required. Access to the TRS opened for non-taxable trusts from 1 September 2021 and there is an obligation to register by 1 September 2022.  Potentially penalties can be charged for non-compliance.

Trusts of jointly held property (‘co-ownership trusts’) where the trustees and beneficiaries are the same persons are excluded from registration. 

Where two or more persons purchase property together, they often hold the property as beneficial joint tenants, meaning the property passes by survivorship on death to the remaining co-owner(s).

However, two or more persons purchasing property together in England and Wales may instead elect to hold the property as beneficial tenants in common, allowing each person to hold a defined (and not necessarily equal) share of the property, which then passes separately with their estate on death. Under English Law this is achieved by creating an express trust for ownership as tenants in common. This is the likely scenario for ownership of freehold GP Surgery premises with the express trust created by the Partnership Deed and accounts treatment.

Where the trustees (listed legal owners with the Land Registry) and beneficiaries (holders of an interest in the property) are not the same persons, this is not an excluded co-ownership trust. However, trusts created for this purpose are excluded from registration as trusts imposed by legislation.

What do you need to do?

To establish whether there is a TRS reporting requirement for your GP Surgery you should check who are the listed legal owners with the Land Registry. Once you have obtained this information it should be compared to the current holders of an interest in the property (beneficiaries).

If it is discovered that the Land Registry has not been updated for past changes in ownership of a property, then it is very likely that a TRS registration will be required and which can only subsequently be updated once the Land Registry is corrected. Advice should be taken to ensure any reporting requirements are met and the title deeds updated.

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