Solicitors' body and IT outsourcer abandon scheme to computerise home buying process
For the second time in eight years, an attempt to computerise the tortuous procedure for buying a home in England and Wales has ended with red faces. The latest organisation to throw in the towel is the Law Society, which has announced that it is ending its investment in Legal Practice Technologies (LPT), a joint venture set up two years ago with Indian based IT outsourcer Mastek.
LPT was formed to create an online system called Veyo to handle all stages in buying and selling a residential property. The idea was that handling all documentation securely online within a “trusted community” would avoid breakdowns in a transaction chain and reduce the risk of fraud.
Conveyancers would pay for the system through a fee of £20 per transaction. A prototype was released to some conveyancing firms earlier this year.
But in a statement last week LPT said the “shape of the market… has changed”. In particular it cited a product called Free2Convey, developed by a trade body, the Legal Software Suppliers Association. However, this is still in the pilot stage and it is not clear when it will go live.
The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, picked up the baton of e-conveyancing after the Land Registry shelved its own ambitious programme in 2007. Its system, known as Chain Matrix after its most notable feature, was put on hold after a pilot showed there was little interest in signing up.
The failure of both Chain Matrix and Veyo illustrate the difficulties of computerising service transactions involving different stakeholders. Complications include the high value of transactions and the fact that buyers and sellers may not necessarily want to share information with other parties in the chain.
Anthony Miller of analyst TechMarketView suggests another factor: insufficient agility on the part of traditionally-minded IT businesses.
He commented last week: “Today’s announcement by The Law Society rather says it all: ‘New providers have committed to bring free products to market within case management software to deliver LPT's vision for e-conveyancing … We have made the very difficult decision not to invest further in light of developments in the market which mean that case management providers are likely to meet our members' needs at no additional cost’.”
He added: “Many ‘learnings’, methinks, for established tech players!”
Even agile efforts to computerise conveyancing still face a final hurdle: uncertainty surrounding the future of Land Registry. Last month’s Spending Review and Autumn Statement document said the government will “consult on options to move operations of the Land Registry to the private sector from 2017”, subject to a value for money assessment. Until its future is resolved, a comprehensive end-to-end e-conveyancing system is unlikely to become reality.