HM Land Registry has said it will soon begin to accept witnessed electronic signatures in the conveyancing process.
It has published draft practice guidance on the process with a call for feedback.
It is also taking steps for qualified electronic signatures – a form of digital signature – to be used when working with it.
Mike Harlow (picutred), the organisation’s deputy chief executive and deputy chief land registrar, said the plans have been accelerated by the coronavirus lockdown, which prompted Land Registry to bring together a group of regulators, trade bodies, conveyancers, lenders and estate agents to discuss the immediate issues. It has also carried out research of the market in electronic and digital signatures.
The draft guidance on electronic signatures – which covers those replacing pen and ink with a signature on an electronic platform – includes a six-step signing and dating process with the scope for one party to sign in wet ink if necessary. Among the requirements is that all parties agree to the process, have conveyancers acting for them, and that a conveyancer is responsible for setting up and controlling the process through the platform.
It is open for comments until 18 July.
“We believe that a number of businesses that currently provide electronic signatures to other sector should be able to quickly meet these criteria,” said Harlow in a blogpost.
“On top of the other practice changes we have already introduced, this should provide conveyancers with immediate help in meeting the difficulties of working with paper in the current crisis.”
Digital signatures, meanwhile, have been legally enabled since the Land Registration Act 2002 and provide more security than electronic signatures, but have traditionally been awkward to use.
Harlow said there has now been sufficient progress with the type known as qualified electronic signatures, which are provided by ‘qualified trust service providers’ who need to meet specific standards.
Land Registry is aiming to issue a practice note on how these should be used in the next few weeks.
Harlow said: “Our hope is that in the near future qualified electronic signatures become more commonplace and the service providers tailor their use to conveyancing.
“If they do develop to be a successful option for completing property transactions, we will review the use of electronic signatures and may withdraw their acceptance, which would leave only the more secure qualified electronic signatures in use.”
Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0