Sam Dunn: 'How can I find the deeds to my home?'

House Doctor
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Question: I've just paid off my mortgage but the Halifax has said that they do not have my deeds. I also checked the Land Registry which said it had no information on my house. In a word, help! What on earth do I do to prove I'm owner if I want to sell in the future? I bought the property in 1984. D Gurney, via email

Answer: Proof of ownership doesn't come any more crucial than for your home, so it's a matter of pressing concern that neither you nor the Land Registry possesses any such evidence.

However, while it may be the case that you've simply lost the original deeds (and many do) or forgotten that you lodged them with a solicitor or previous building society or bank, there's also a very good reason for the Land Registry omission: you never had to register in the first place. While most UK homes had to be registered in the 1960s/70s, plenty of the UK's more rural postcodes were excluded until much later.

First double-check to see if you lodged your deeds with the law firm who helped you buy your home, or whether any previous lenders have your papers in storage.

If not, says Registry spokesman Marion Shelley, you'll have to effectively 'recreate' your right to ownership to the Registry: "You'll have to establish a 'statement of truth' as proof on your property as part of what's called a 'voluntary first registration' of your property."

In a nutshell, this statement of truth must describe when, where, and how the deeds were lost or destroyed, as well as confirm that no one else has any interest in your property.

This isn't easy: you'll likely need to stump up an historic series of former mortgage payments stretching back through the years, or dig out old legal documents such as draft deeds or even planning applications showing you lived there.

But it might still not be enough: if you don't have any of these, you're then left with a 'statutory declaration' which means – legally – you must swear before a magistrate or practising solicitor that you are the owner.

There's a cost too: the voluntary registration will cost you up to £690 but if your home is worth up to £200,000, you won't have more than £160 to pay.

Whichever option you choose, each can be done without professional help: but hiring a solicitor – for a fee of at least £150 – will make it much easier.