The Land Registry is now accepting ‘witnessed electronic signatures’ from 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 across the sector.
it believes the new guidance on the use of electronic signatures will enable the providers of electronic signatures to develop new affordable and accessible tools for conveyancers to use.
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. I’d like to thank everyone who responded to our consultation on the guidance. This has helped to ensure this new witnessed electronic signature process works for everyone.”
More details on this consultation process and the main questions raised is covered in a blog by Robin Malpas, deputy director for central legal services.
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.
HM Land Registry is 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 continues 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.
Adam Forshaw, managing director at conveyancing firm O’Neill Patient, added: “This is a significant step forward for homebuyers, as it means that in principle the entire homebuying 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.”