HM Land Registry has begun to accept witnessed electronic signatures for legal documents on property dealings.
It has also published new practice guidance for conveyancers on how to use the e-signatures with the aim of helping them to develop new tools.
The new process involves a conveyancer uploading the deed to an online platform which sends a link to the signatories. Once they have completed the necessary authentication checks, they would then ‘sign’ the document electronically in the physical presence of the witness who then also signs.
The conveyancer is then notified that the signing process has been concluded and, once they have affected completion of the deed, can submit it to HM Land Registry with their application for registration.
In every case the online platform would need to include two-factor authentication of the signatories and witness accessing the deed. A link to the document is emailed and then an authentication code sent to the individual’s mobile phone
Simon Hayes, chief executive and chief land registrar, said: “What we have done today is remove the last strict requirement to print and sign a paper document in a home buying or other property transaction. 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.”
The move comes shortly after HM Land Registry recently began accepting deeds that have been signed using the ‘Mercury signing approach’. This involves a signature being witnessed in person then being scanned or photographed and the image sent by email. It will remain as another way of completing a deed.
The new guidance has been published after feedback from conveyancers on a draft version.
Land Registry is already holding further discussions with the sector to explore the potential introduction of qualified electronic signatures, a form of digital signature in which the signatory has to meet the identification requirements of a qualified trust service provider.
If they develop as a successful option for completing property transactions, Land Registry will review the continued use of witnessed electronic signatures.
It added that work is also going on 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.
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