B&C revealed earlier this month that HM Land Registry was soon to start accepting witnessed electronic signatures and was to take steps to ensure that digital signatures can be used.
From yesterday (27th July), HM Land Registry has started accepting electronic signatures that enable an individual to sign legal documents, but which still require a witness who is present at the time to also sign the documents electronically.
The organisation has published new practice guidance for conveyancers on how to use electronic signatures after seeking feedback from conveyancers and others across the sector.
The move comes shortly after HM Land Registry recently began accepting deeds that have been signed using the ‘Mercury signing approach’, which will remain as another way of completing a deed.
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“What we have done [is] remove the last strict requirement to print and sign a paper document in a home buying or other property transaction,” commented Simon Hayes, chief executive and chief land registrar.
“This should help right now while lots of us are working at home, but it is also a keystone of a truly digital, secure and more efficient conveyancing process that we believe is well within reach.
“The more sophisticated, qualified electronic signatures are a part of that vision and encouraging those is where our attention will be directed next.”
Adam Forshaw, managing director at tech-driven conveyancers, O’Neill Patient, said that this was a “significant step” forward for homebuyers, as it means that, in principle, the entire journey can now be conducted electronically.
“Even before the advent of Covid-19 and social distancing, there was significant demand for a more tech-driven process.
“But one of the biggest problems facing the property sector in lockdown was the ongoing requirement for ‘wet-ink’ signatures.
“The Land Registry is to be commended for moving quickly from consultation to new guidance.
“We look forward to working with them on their additional proposals to accept ‘qualified electronic signatures’, which will further improve security and remove the need for a witness altogether.”
HM Land Registry is already holding further discussions with the sector to explore the potential introduction of qualified electronic signatures, as soon as practicable.
If they do develop to be a successful option for completing property transactions, HM Land Registry will review the continued use of witnessed electronic signatures.
Work is also being undertaken to explore whether digital identity checking technology used in other sectors can be encouraged in the conveyancing industry to increase resilience against fraud and improve the ease of buying and selling.