Southern Pacific Mortgages Ltd v Scott (Mortgage Business Plc intervening)

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeLord Collins,Lady Hale,Lord Sumption,Lord Wilson,Lord Reed
Judgment Date22 October 2014
Neutral Citation[2014] UKSC 52
Date22 October 2014
CourtSupreme Court

[2014] UKSC 52


Michaelmas Term

On appeal from [2012] EWCA Civ 17


Lady Hale

Lord Wilson

Lord Sumption

Lord Reed

Lord Collins

Rosemary Scott
(Appellant/Second Defendant)
Southern Pacific Mortgages Limited
(Claimant/First Respondent)


Mortgage Express
(Second Respondent)


Amee Lydia Wilkinson
(First Defendant)


The Mortgage Business Plc


Bryan McGuire QC James Stark (Instructed by Paula Harris, David Gray Solicitors LLP)

First Respondent

Justin Fenwick QC Nicole Sandells Nicholas Broomfield (Instructed by Paul Heeley, TLT LLP)

Second Respondent

Justin Fenwick QC Nicole Sandells Nicholas Broomfield (Instructed by Ian Drew, Walker Morris LLP)


Lesley Anderson QC Daniel Gatty (Instructed by Richard Pitt, Eversheds LLP)

Heard on 3 and 4 March 2014

Lord Collins (with whom Lord Sumption agrees)


The transactions with which this appeal is concerned arose during a period when sale and rent back transactions were common. They were what was described by the Office of Fair Trading in 2008 ( Sale and rent back: An OFT market study) as a relatively new type of property transaction whereby firms bought homes from individuals, usually at a discount, and allowed the former home owners to stay on in the property as tenants. The deals were often sold to home owners in financial difficulties and the firms selling them often told the home owners that they would be able to stay in their homes for years, when in fact the tenancies were rarely granted for more than six or twelve months. Many firms financed the purchase of the properties through secured borrowing, and former owners were being evicted following proceedings for possession by mortgage lenders after the purchasers defaulted on their loans. The home owners did not fully understand the risks involved, and the OFT's research found that solicitors provided by the sale and rent back companies to provide advice to the seller were sometimes suspected to be acting for the companies as well. By the time of the study the OFT estimated that there were 1,000 firms involved in selling the schemes and about 50,000 transactions.


In 2009 the Financial Services Authority recommended that consumer detriment occurring in this market warranted a fast regulatory response, and in the same year sale and rent back transactions became a regulated activity under section 19 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. As a result, in February 2012 the FSA reported that most sale and rent back transactions were unaffordable or unsuitable and should never have been sold, but that in practice the entire market had shut down. They are now very rare.


This is an appeal in one of what were originally ten test cases in which the defendant home owners were persuaded to sell their properties to purchasers who promised the vendors the right to remain in their homes after the sale. The purchasers bought the homes with the assistance of mortgages from lenders, who were not given notice of the promises to the home owners. Criminal charges are pending and the original owners and the lenders may have been the victims of a fraud. Some of the solicitors involved in the transactions were subsequently the subject of disciplinary proceedings. Ultimately this appeal will determine which of the innocent parties will bear the consequences.


The purchasers/mortgagors were nominees for an entity called North East Property Buyers ("NEPB"). In each case the purchaser/mortgagor has taken no part in the proceedings. There are another 90 or so cases in the Newcastle area involving NEPB and some 20 different lenders, but also many other cases in other parts of England involving similar schemes.


In each case the purchaser applied for a loan from one of the lenders. The application form disclosed that the property was being purchased on a "buy to let" basis and that the tenancies granted would be assured shorthold tenancies of six months' duration. The mortgage terms generally permitted only assured shorthold tenancies for a fixed term of not more than 12 months. As a result the purchasers were able to obtain loans on the basis that they were purchasing properties at full value with vacant possession.


Exchange of contracts between the relevant vendor and the purchaser, and the completion of the contract by the execution of the transfer, and the execution of the mortgage, all took place on the same day. Neither the rights of occupation promised by the purchasers to the vendors nor the tenancies granted by the purchasers were permitted by the lenders' mortgages.


The purchasers defaulted on the loans, and the lenders sought possession of the homes in proceedings, which the original owners resisted, without success, before Judge Behrens sitting as a High Court judge in the Chancery Division at Leeds District Registry (sub nom Various Mortgagors v Various Mortgagees [2010] EWHC 2991 (Ch)) and on appeal before Lord Neuberger MR, and Rix and Etherton LJJ, with Etherton LJ giving the only reasoned judgment: sub nom Cook v Mortgage Business [2012] EWCA Civ 17, [2012] 1 WLR 1521.


The essence of the issue before this court is whether the home owners had interests whose priority was protected by virtue of section 29(2)(a)(ii) of, and Schedule 3, paragraph 2, to the Land Registration Act 2002 ("the 2002 Act").


There are two main questions on this appeal which divide the parties, and each of them concerns the effect of the contract of sale and purchase.


One question is whether the purchasers were in a position at the date of exchange of contracts to confer equitable proprietary rights on the vendors, as opposed to personal rights only. The second question is whether, even if the equitable rights of the vendors were more than merely personal rights, the rationale of the decision of the House of Lords on the Land Registration Act 1925 ("the 1925 Act") in Abbey National Building Society v Cann [1991] 1 AC 56 applies in this case. At the risk of oversimplification, that case decided that where a purchaser relies on a bank or building society loan for the completion of a purchase, the transactions of acquiring the legal estate and granting the charge are one indivisible transaction, and an occupier cannot assert against the mortgagee an equitable interest arising only on completion.

Mrs Scott's case

The only appeal before this court is that by Mrs Scott, but because this is a test case I shall for convenience refer to the arguments on her behalf as those of "the vendors". In order to put some flesh on the scheme, I propose to illustrate it by reference to some of the facts of Mrs Scott's case, although it should be emphasised that there have been no findings of fact and that the lenders have not agreed the statement of facts from which this account is taken.


Mrs Scott and her former husband Mr Scott were originally secure tenants of a house in Longbenton, Newcastle upon Tyne. They bought the house from North Tyneside Borough Council in 1999 on a mortgage from Cheltenham and Gloucester, and became the registered proprietors with absolute title. Five years later Mr Scott left Mrs Scott and she fell into financial difficulties. In 2005 she decided to put the house on the market at £156,000 but only received an offer significantly below the asking price.


Mrs Scott was subsequently approached by a man who told Mrs Scott that he had heard she was trying to sell her house, and said that a friend of his worked for a Mr Michael Foster who was looking to buy properties in the area and that Mr Foster would pay the asking price and rent it back to Mrs Scott.


Mr Foster, who was in some way connected with NEPB, then met Mrs Scott and told her that he would purchase the property for £135,000 and that she could stay as a tenant at a discounted rent of £250 a calendar month. If she stayed for ten years she would receive a lump sum of £15,000, which would make up some of the deficit in the sale price, and she would receive £24,000 from the net proceeds of sale. The outstanding mortgage to Cheltenham and Gloucester was in the region of £70,000, and so the equity would have been about £65,000. A deduction of £40,000 would be paid to NEPB.


Mrs Scott told Mr Foster that she wished to live in the property indefinitely and he assured her that she could stay as long as she liked, and that if she were to die the tenancy would be automatically transferred into her son's name and he would receive the lump sum at the end of the ten-year period.


Mr Foster said that he would arrange solicitors for her and be responsible for the legal fees so long as those solicitors were used. Those solicitors were Hall & Co, who also acted for the vendors in most of the other cases. The solicitors for the purchaser were Adamsons, who, in the usual way, also acted for the lenders (and also acted in other transactions of this type).


Ms Amee Wilkinson was the nominee purchaser for NEPB. Ms Wilkinson was made a buy to let interest only mortgage offer by Southern Pacific Mortgages Ltd on June 15, 2005. The loan amount was £114,750 and £1,751.50 fees. The mortgage offer stated that the purchaser was not bound by the terms of the offer until the purchaser had executed the legal charge, the funds had been released, and the legal transaction had been completed.


In the course of the conveyancing process, the answers to the requisitions on title in respect of vacant possession were that arrangements might be made direct with the seller "as to both the handover of keys and the time that vacant possession would be given."


The agreement for sale, dated August 12, 2005, was expressed to be with Full Title Guarantee and subject to the Standard Conditions of Sale (4th Edition). The Special Conditions attached at Clause 4 were left by both firms of...

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