From 27 July 2020 HM Land Registry will be accepting "witnessed electronic signatures" where an individual and a witness can electronically sign a legal document for the following:
- transfer of ownership of property
- other property dealings.
These changes follow feedback from the sector on potential changes to processes. Simon Hayes, the Chief Executive and Chief Land Registrar states the introduction of electronic signatures "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."
This development is a step further from the recent introduction of the Mercury Signing Approach. This approach basically allows parties to a deed to print off and sign the signature page of the deed in the presence of a witness. However, all parties still need to provide a wet signature.
This latest update has been included in the Land Registry's Practice Guide 8 –Execution of Deeds which sets out the requirements for electronic signatures which are summarised below:
- All parties to agree to the use of the electronic signatures in the deed.
- The conveyancers will deal with the signing process through an online platform.
- This platform will send a link to the signatories who will follow an authentication process and electronically sign the document in the physical presence of a witness.
- The conveyancer will be notified that this has been done and will then be able to submit the document for registration to the HM Land Registry.
- The conveyancer submitting the application (including an application for first registration) provides the following certificate: "I certify that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, the requirements set out in practice guide 8 for the execution of deeds using electronic signatures have been satisfied."
This will be a welcome update to many conveyancers who are working from home and have clients who are also working from home or overseas. It will certainly speed up the conveyancing process and make the ordeal of moving home less stressful, simpler and faster. The Land Registry is already in discussions on whether to introduce qualified signatures to further simplify the process. Watch this space!