HM Land Registry to Accept Electronic Signatures

In a sign of the times, the Land Registry will now accept “witnessed electronic signatures” in addition to physical documents.

The new measures, which come into force from this week, enable individuals to sign legal documents via electronic signature. While the process also requires another individual to be present to also sign the document electronically, the change will make it simpler for people to move home and potentially pave the way for the rest of the conveyancing process to be conducted electronically as well.

To sign a deed electronically under the new arrangements, a conveyancer first uploads the deed to an online platform that sends the signatory a link. Once the signatory’s identity has been authenticated, they sign in the presence of a witness, who then also signs, automatically notifying the conveyancer that the process has been completed. They may then effect completion of the deed and send it to HMLR along with an application for registration.

HMLR has also updated its practice guidelines for conveyancers on the use of electronic signatures, which the government body believes 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 at HMLR, said in the release: “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 decision has been warmly received. Matt Tuson, SVP & MD EMEA at Conga, welcomed the change as a countermeasure to issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in many people being unable to physically sign a document.

By validating witnessed electronic signatures for everyday property transactions, HM Land Registry not only encourages a more effective conveyancing process, that makes it faster and easier for people to move home, but encourages other businesses to embrace digital in this challenging environment,” he said.

Tuson also offered reassurance to those uncertain about the security of electronic signatures: “While there may be some initial security concerns, electronic signatures today have robust security precautions in place. Indeed, electronic signature technology must meet industry-recognised physical and technological security standards that guarantee secure transactions. This can significantly minimise fraud, especially when handling or approving documents for the conveyance of property. Long term, this will be the preferred means of documentation.”

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