The Government has quietly announced plans to privatise the Land Registry, on the evening before the Easter holiday weekend.
The Conservatives previously tried to privatise the agency, which records and oversees all property transactions in England and Wales, during the Coalition government but were blocked by the Liberal Democrats.
Chancellor George Osborne revived the idea last year as part of his plan to sell £20bn of assets by the end of this parliament.
The agency has been previously valued at around £1.2bn and made a surplus of £100m for the public purse in 2012/13.
The proposal says the Crown will continue to own the Land Register but that all of its core services will be sub-contracted to a private operator.
Parliament will also have to approve an increase in fees charged for services and there will be a state-back guarantee against any losses incurred as a result of a mistake on the register.
On Thursday, the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills launched a consultation over the plans to privatise the service which holds titles for 24m properties.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid said: "Anyone who’s bought a flat or a house knows that the Land Registry has an important role to play in property ownership.
"By proposing a model where government retains critical functions, including ownership of the Register itself, we are delivering on our promise to ensure the sale of public assets benefits the wider economy and all working people in the longer-term."
Since taking over control of the Treasury in 2010, Mr Osborne has presided over the sale of at least £37.7bn of state assets.
George Osborne 2016 budget at a glance
George Osborne 2016 budget at a glance
1/8 Debt forecasts up, growth forecasts down
The OBR’s new forecasts have downgraded growth in all of the next five years to 2020. The watchdog says the economy will only grow by 2 per cent in 2016, as opposed to the anticipated 2.4 per cent. Borrowing and productivity growth are also down – with forecast borrowing in 2018-198 £16 billion higher
2/8 New tax on sugary drinks
The Chancellor announced a new tax on sugary soft drinks, which is projected to raise £520 million. At least some of the money will be spent on doubling funding for school sport, the Chancellor says. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the levy
3/8 Tax cut for higher earners paying the 40p rate
The Chancellor has raised the threshold for paying the higher rate of income tax to £45,000. The higher rate is paid by roughly the richest 15 per cent, currently people earning over £42,386
4/8 Increase in tax-free income tax threshold
The tax-free allowance increase to £11,500 in April 2017 – up from £10,600 now. The Chancellor previously raised the allowance from £6,475 in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The Conservative manifesto pledges to put the allowance up to £12,500 by the end of the Parliament
5/8 New devolution for counties and powers for London and Manchester
The West of England, the East of England and Greater Lincolnshire will all get elected mayor-led combined authorities with new powers. The Chancellor says they are backed by £1 billion new funding. Greater Manchester will get new powers of criminal justice while London will keep its business rates – giving whoever is elected Mayor a lot more spending power
6/8 Fuel duty frozen for sixth year running
The Chancellor had planned to end the fuel duty freeze he had put in place for the whole previous parliament. In the event, he has announced a freeze for another year
7/8 All schools to become academies
As reported yesterday the Chancellor unveiled legislation to turn all schools into academies. He said all schools would either be academies or on their way to being academies by 2020, and that funding had been set aside to fund the change
8/8 Lifetime ISA
The Chancellor announced a new savings account to encourage under-40s to save for retirement – for every £4 saved, the Government will top this up by £1 up to the value of £4,000 a year. Tax-free ISAs will also be increased from £15,000 to £20,000
Angela Eagle, Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary criticised the move: “This short-term privatisation will have long-term consequences; it could undermine confidence in Land Registry data, jeopardise the service to homebuyers, and erode conditions for their staff.
"The Government are privatising the profits of the Land Registry – which made a surplus of £100 million in 2012/13 – whilst retaining the risk.
“This announcement was slipped out late on the last day before recess in another desperate attempt to avoid scrutiny. Labour will fight this unnecessary, un-evidenced and unwanted privatisation.”
Additional reporting by PAReuse content