A brand new register is being introduced to answer the question: who really owns Scotland's land?
The Register of Persons Holding a Controlled Interest in Land is designed to increase the transparency of land ownership in Scotland. The concept was first introduced by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 and new regulations have now been published to govern how the Register will be implemented and operational from 1 April 2022.
The overarching purpose of the Register is to increase public transparency in relation to individuals who have control over decision-making in relation to land. Land is sometimes legally held in the name of trusts or other entities which can obscure the identity of the individuals who actually hold the control of the land. The new Register is intended to ensure that it will be possible to look behind every category of ownership entity in Scotland, including overseas entities and trusts, to see who controls land even if those controlling individuals are not registered or recorded as the legal owner of the land.
The Register is to be built and maintained by the Keeper of The Registers of Scotland, alongside the public registers of land, property and other legal documents in Scotland.
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 (Register of Persons Holding a Controlled Interest in Land) Regulations 2021 establish a duty on registered land owners and tenants to notify the Keeper of any relevant controlled interest or "associates" - being persons who have significant influence or control over the recorded owner or tenant's dealings with the land. That information will then be recorded in the Register and will be kept up to date by the Keeper, relying on notifications being sent to her in the event of any changes to the information.
There are some exceptions where the land owner or tenant is already subject to another transparency regime. For example, charities, companies, public authorities and certain partnerships will not have to provide details of their associates to the Keeper for entry on the Register because that information is available elsewhere – in the case of companies, from Companies House records.
How will the Register be used?
The Scottish Government believes that improved information about who controls land in Scotland will help empower people, including community groups, and give them the opportunity to understand who is in control of land owners and tenants. This transparency should also allow people to engage constructively with any person with a controlling interest who makes decisions in relation to land that might have an impact on sustainable development. It is thought that the Register will also aid policy making by enabling a fuller picture of those individuals who have control over decisions about land in Scotland.
The Keeper is required to make the information contained in the Register available "by such means as the Keeper considers appropriate". It is likely that this will be through a publicly accessible website but more information will be available in the coming months.
Please contact a member of our team if you have any questions about the issues raised in this article.