Adverse possession of land vested in the crown
as bona vacantia
For the land to be bona vacantia, it must be established that the property was beneficially owned (i.e. not held on trust) by the company at the time it was dissolved. In the case of land with a registered title, this can be proved by producing office copy entries of the title (obtainable from the relevant District Land Registry), showing the company as the registered proprietor. In the case of land with an unregistered title, it is necessary to trace all of the original title deed, including the conveyance to the dissolved company (for freeholds) or the original lease, and all subsequent deeds of assignment and other assurances, culminating in an assignment to the dissolved company (for leaseholds).
In cases where the dissolved company was the owner of land, that land will vest in the Crown as bona vacantia on the date that the company was dissolved. The title of the dissolved company to the land in question may, however, have been extinguished by adverse possession prior to the date of dissolution, and in those circumstances no interest will pass to the Crown as bona vacantia.
If, however, at the date the company was dissolved the limitation period was still running, the land would vest in the Crown as bona vacantia, but subject to the rights of any person in actual occupation.
If, therefore, you can show 12 years or more adverse possession against the company before it was dissolved, then the company’s title would have become statute barred, and there is nothing to pass to the Crown as bona vacantia, and no interest which the Crown could now transfer.
If, however, time was still running against the company at the date of dissolution, the period of adverse possession then becomes that appropriate to Crown Land, which is 30 years not 12 years: See Section 15(7) and Schedule 1 Part II of the Limitation Act 1980
In the case of land with a registered title, however, Section 75 of the Land Registration Act 1925 provides that such an interest should not be extinguished, but should be deemed to be held by the registered proprietor for the time being, upon trust for the person who has acquired title against the registered proprietor. It is to be noted, however, that it is only property beneficially owned by a company which passes to the Crown as bona vacantia. Section 654 of the Companies Act 1985 specially excepts from vesting in the Crown as bona vacantia any property which was held by the Company upon trust. In the case of land with a registered title, therefore, the title to the land in question will not pass to the Crown
If you believe that the title has been extinguished by adverse possession under either the 12-year rule or the 30-year rule, then the appropriate procedure would be to apply to HM Land Registry for a possessory title, and to submit to the Land Registry the necessary Statutory Declarations.
The Treasury Solicitor has a statutory power under Section 656 of the Companies Act 1985 to disclaim the Crown’s title to property which vests as bona vacantia. However, he only has a period of 12 months from the date on which the vesting of the property came to his notice in which to make an effective disclaimer. This period may in certain circumstances be reduced to 3 months: see Section 653(3)(b) of the 1985 Act.
If the Treasury Solicitor disclaims the Crown’s title to the property in question, the effect of such a disclaimer in the case of freeholds is that the freehold interest would then escheat to the Crown, and it is then open to the Crown Estate, who become interested
in the property on disclaimer, to deal with the property. If the title is disclaimed, you will receive a copy of the formal Notice of Disclaimer in due course.
The Treasury Solicitor’s right to disclaim the Crown’s title to the property in question at any time without notice is hereby expressly reserved.
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