Government – guidance

Refer bona vacantia land or buildings (BVC2)

How to refer or buy land that belonged to a dissolved company and now belongs to the Crown.

Overview

The Bona Vacantia division (BVD) of the Government Legal department deals with land and buildings that belonged to a dissolved company and now belong to the Crown.

Normally bona vacantia land will either be disclaimed or sold for full market value.

BVD’s power of disclaimer is important and exercised frequently in relation to bona vacantia land because it protects the Crown, and therefore the taxpayer, from liability. For further details on disclaimers please read BVC1.

BVD may disclaim land immediately on it being brought to their attention or at any point during a case, including without further reference to you or any other third party even if you have spent time or money on a case.

When BVD disclaim freehold land, the title to the land is extinguished.

After disclaimer any enquiries about the land should be referred to the Crown Estate through their solicitors, Burges Salmon LLP.

Burges Salmon LLP
One Glass Wharf
Bristol
BS2 0ZX

If BVD sell bona vacantia land it is always for the open market value subject to a minimum price set out below. There is no guarantee that they will sell to you, or at all, and where possible, land will be sold at public auction.

You should note that BVD will not:

  • transfer land for no fee or sell land for less than £1,000 plus their costs
  • undertake maintenance work on the property
  • grant rights of way over bona vacantia land
  • clear rubbish or deal with problems on the land
  • manage or insure the property
  • get involved in pre-existing disputes with neighbouring land owners

This list is not exhaustive but as a general rule BVD will do nothing except try to sell land or disclaim it.

BVD will not generally sell or transfer:

  • commercial leases - these will be disclaimed
  • land used in common such as roadways, verges or amenity land - this will be disclaimed
  • land which is dangerous or onerous - this will be disclaimed
  • land subject to multiple charges or competing claims - this will be disclaimed

How you make a request to buy land from BVD

Complete the following:

  1. check that BVD is the correct office by reading BVC1 on jurisdiction
  2. write to them at

Bona Vacantia - Companies

Government Legal Department
PO Box 70165

London
WC1A 9HG

Please use this email address for all enquiries relating to the non cash assets of dissolved companies (eg, land, shares, intellectual property, chattels, etc).

You must include:

  • the name, company number and last registered office of the dissolved company that owned the land. You can get this information from Companies House
  • Official Copy Entries (OCE) and a title plan from the Land Registry for the property that you are interested in purchasing, and any adjoining land you own. You can get this information from the Land Registry. If the land is not registered you will need to make further investigations – see below
  • details of any buildings on the land
  • whether the land has been incorporated into any adjoining property that you or anyone else owns. Please get an OCE and a title plan from the Land Registry for each of these adjoining properties
  • explain why you are interested in purchasing the property
  • explain whether you want to use the land to gain access to any other land that you own or plan to acquire. Please get an OCE and a title plan from the Land Registry for the other land you own or plan to acquire
  • details of any past or current disputes relating to the property or its use
  • details of anyone in occupation of the property, or who is using or maintaining it, and when this began
  • details of any planning consents or applications in relation to the land
  • if the property is subject to a mortgage or charge, details of any enquiries you have made to the lender. Please get a copy of the mortgage or charge from the Land Registry
  • details of any solicitors who are acting for you

Please answer all of the above questions and send copies of all the documents requested as BVD will not normally be able to progress your case without the above information.

Please send your application either by post/DX or email but not both. Please do not send multiple copies.

Unregistered land

It can be more difficult to show ownership of unregistered land. You can find out whether land is registered or unregistered at the Land Registry by doing an index map search

If you are looking to buy unregistered land you should also send

  • a copy of your index map search
  • a copy of the conveyance (transfer document) of the land to the dissolved company. If this is not available you should explain why including what steps you have taken to find the document and send BVD other documentary evidence that indicates the land was owned by the dissolved company

If there is no evidence of the land’s ownership BVD will not be able to deal with it. Land does not become bona vacantia just because the owner is unknown.

It is not BVD’s role to help you investigate the title to land and you should take your own independent legal advice if you are not sure what to do.

Valuation and further details

Before BVD deal with land they will check that the evidence you have provided demonstrates that the dissolved company owned it.

If they are not satisfied with the evidence provided they may ask you to make further enquiries.

If they agree that the land is bona vacantia BVD will decide how to dispose of it. BVD will consider disclaiming the land and may disclaim without reference or prior notice to you. This is to ensure that they proceed in a cost effective manner that represents good value for the taxpayer and protects the taxpayer from possible liability.

If the company was dissolved recently BVD will usually contact the former directors to ask whether they want to restore the company to the register.

If they indicate that they intend to restore the company it is unlikely that BVD will be prepared to deal with the land.

If BVD decide to consider a sale they will usually instruct the District Valuer to advise them about the value of the land and the best means of disposal.

You will need to pay the District Valuer’s fees in advance. This will normally be an upfront payment of around £960 (£800 plus VAT) but may well be more.

There is no guarantee that the land will be offered for sale to you if you provide funds for a valuation.

BVD may make enquiries of adjoining owners or other parties who may have an interest in the land. Alternatively, BVD may ask you to make those enquiries or get the consent of neighbouring land owners.

You will need to act quickly in obtaining consents or other information that BVD request because, particularly where it appears the land is of limited value, you will increase the risk of the land being disclaimed if you do not act quickly.

If you buy bona vacantia land you will also have to pay BVD’s legal costs of £500 plus VAT, and any disbursements that they have incurred, including the District Valuer’s fees.

If the total cost of the transaction is £10,000 or more BVD will ask for proof of identity and address in line with anti-money laundering procedures.

Special conditions

There are several important ways in which bona vacantia land sales are different from other land sales. These can have important legal consequences so you should take your own independent legal advice as to how they affect you.

  1. BVD do not transfer property with either full or limited title guarantee. This means that when they sell property they do not give any guarantee or assurance that they have the legal right to sell it

  2. any land they sell is sold subject to any third party rights that exist over it. They will not make any enquiries as to what these rights may be and you will need to rely on your own enquiries

  3. if there is a charge or mortgage over the land it will be the responsibility of the purchaser to deal with it and to liaise with the lender to have it released

  4. BVD will not assist with the registration of the sale