Land Registry Confirms Electronic Signature Arrangements

HM Land Registry has confirmed that it will now start accepting electronic signatures – paving the way for the entire conveyancing process to be conducted electronically.

Starting this week, Land Registry will accept witnessed electronic signatures for transfers of property ownership, leases, mortgages and other property-related dealings. The ‘mercury approach’ for signatures – which allows for a signature page to be signed in pen in the physical presence of a witness – will remain.

To sign the deeds electronically, a conveyancer will need to upload the deed to an online platform, which sends a link to the signatories. Once they have completed the necessary authentication checks, they ‘sign’ the document electronically in the physical presence of the witness, who also signs. The conveyancer is then notified that the signing process has been done and can submit the completed deed to Land Registry with their registration application.

The online platform will require a two-factor authentication process for the signatories and witness. A link to the document is emailed and an authentication code is sent to the individual’s mobile phone.

Chief executive Simon Hayes 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.’

Land Registry revealed plans to accept electronic signatures earlier this month.

Robin Malpas, deputy director for central legal services, said many of those who submitted feedback welcomed the change.

However, some respondents did not agree with the two-factor authentication requirement. Malpas said the requirement was appropriate to ensure that two unique individuals have signed, but Land Registry will be ‘open to future changes’.

Adam Forshaw, managing director of Stockport conveyancing firm O’Neill Patient, said the latest development was a significant step forward for homebuyers.

‘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,’ he said.

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“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.’

Law Society president Simon Davis said he was pleased to see how quickly Land Registry has responded to the practical problems arising from the pandemic. 

'Consumers are used to dealing with two-fold authentication with their banks and other providers. Ensuring that e-signature solution providers are able to produce what is being asked of them is an important initial step to adoption. The next stage in the process - introducing full digital signatures that do not require witnesses and verify ID to a high level - should make transactions more secure and form a key part of the increasingly digital systems we hope to see in the near future,' Davis added.