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Concessions made by HM Land Registry make it easier to complete during lockdown

In recognition of the constraints of lockdown, the Land Registry has made temporary concessions to the evidence it requires about completed transactions in order to register them (using video calls and an image of the fully signed signature page of a deed).

The Land Registry will now accept:

  • verification of identity by video call. The list of people who can verify a person’s identity has also been extended to include professionals who are non-conveyancers,
  • an image of the fully signed signature page of a deed, which can be taken using a scanner or a camera to produce a PDF, JPEG or other suitable copy. Previously the full hard copy of the transaction including all wet-ink signatures was required.

Why was it necessary to make changes?

Changes have been necessary as a consequence of social distancing requirements during the coronavirus pandemic but also to safeguard against any risk of fraud.

Land Registry registers the ownership of land and property in England and Wales.  Anyone buying or selling land or property, or taking out a mortgage, must apply to the Land Registry to register the disposition.

Proof of Identity

On 4 May 2020, the Land Registry published temporary changes to its verification of identity requirements due to the temporary closure of their customer information centres and most conveyancer’s offices. These changes included:

  • extending the list of people who can verify a person’s identity to include people who work or worked in particular professions before retiring. A list of the relevant professionals can be found in para 1.3 of the new Practice Guidance 67A issued by Land Registry. They include medical doctors, dentists, teachers and bank officials. The person verifying the identity and the person whose identity is being verified must not be related to each other in any way
  • allowing verification of identity by video call. Conveyancers only need to take a screenshot photograph of the person whose identity is being verified during the video call and retain this.
  • completing specific forms depending on whether a conveyancer or non-conveyancer is verifying identity, and also whether the identity being verified is a private individual or a corporate body.

Proof of signatures

Given the current uncertainty regarding how long lockdown and social distancing measures will remain in place, both solicitors and their clients are considering virtual execution (including the use of e-signatures) as a practical means for completing most transactions in a timely manner. Deeds in particular require an independent adult witness to verify the signatories’ execution.

While some deeds can be executed by electronic signature, the Land Registry still require a person to manually sign the deed in ink or some other indelible medium - this is referred to as a wet ink signature any transfer of land, lease, mortgage or deed of grant (known as dispositionary deeds).

HM Land Registry concession

Although the Land Registry is currently developing a new digital service for electronic conveyancing transactions and registration that will include the use of e-signature platforms, a comprehensive digital conveyancing service is still some way off. However, in recognition of the constraints of the coronavirus lockdown, the Land Registry has made concessions to the evidence they require to progress the registration process.

The Land Registry will now accept an image of the fully signed signature page of a deed, which can be taken using a scanner or a camera to produce a PDF, JPEG or other suitable copy by the acting conveyancers following the procedure. This page evidencing execution is then uploaded by the conveyancer together with the full deed in electronic format. This is known as Mercury Execution.

Conclusion

Even with the potential easing of the lockdown, ease of movement enjoyed prior to COVID-19 is still some way into the future. The Land Registry’s concessions will hopefully relieve some of the challenges currently presented to solicitors and their clients due to observance of social distancing and many solicitors currently working from their homes in line with government guidance.

Disclaimer

This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.

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