HM Land registry

HM Land Registry set to accept witnessed electronic signatures soon

HM Land Registry has revealed that it will soon start accepting witnessed electronic signatures and will take steps to ensure that digital signatures can be used.

In a blog post by Mike Harlow, deputy chief executive and deputy chief land registrar at HM Land Registry, he stated that, on top of other practice changes it has already introduced, this should provide conveyancers with immediate help in meeting the difficulties of working with paper in the current Covid-19 crisis.

HM Land Registry has issued draft practice guidance setting out the basis on which it would accept such signatures and is welcoming any comments before 18th July. 

In the guidance, there are requirements set out for deeds that have been electronically signed, including:

  • all parties agree to the use of electronic signatures and an electronic signature platform in relation to the deed 
  • all parties must have a conveyancer acting for them
  • a conveyancer is responsible for setting up and controlling the signing process through the platform
  • the conveyancer which lodges the application does so by electronic means and includes with the application a PDF of the completed deed
  • the conveyancer lodging the application 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.”

In the next few weeks, HM Land Registry will issue its practice note on how qualified electronic signatures may be used with hope that, in the near future, they will become more commonplace, and the service providers tailor their use to conveyancing.

It stated that, if they do develop to be a successful option for completing property transactions, HM Land Registry will review the use of electronic signatures and may withdraw their acceptance, leaving just qualified electronic signatures in use.

What are ‘electronic’ and ‘digital’ signatures?

  • an electronic signature is a simple replacement of a wet signature; a deed that has to be signed by the person ‘doing the deed’ and a witness, can be done so electronically by both.
  • a digital signature is, legally, a different thing, and is more secure because the process preceding them positively identifies the signatory and the resultant document is encrypted so that it cannot be altered; balancing the fact that a witness is no longer required.

Digital signatures in land transactions have been legally enabled since the Land Registration Act 2002. 

There are two main types of digital signature: advanced electronic signatures and qualified electronic signatures.

In a blog post, Mike Harlow, deputy chief executive and deputy chief land registrar at HM Land Registry, stated: “In the early stages of the coronavirus lockdown, we brought together a group of representatives from regulators, trade bodies, conveyancers, lenders and estate agents to discuss the immediate issues of working during lockdown. 

“We also wanted to explore how the solutions we find to our current problems could benefit conveyancing in the future. 

“We have discussed when and how we should approach electronic and digital signatures and the group has helped us immensely with the early stages of our planning.”

On 4th May, HM Land Registry started accepting deeds that have been signed using the Mercury signing approach, in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

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