Homeowners can now buy and sell their homes using an entirely digital process, as Land Registry has replaced the need to physically sign legal documents with electronic signatures
Electronic signatures can now be used to transfer the ownership of properties, secure mortgages, create leases and complete other property related transactions.
But the government body will only accept e-signatures if the digital signing of the documents has been witnessed by someone present at the time, who also signs the documents electronically.
The new guidance on the use of electronic signatures will allow 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.”
HM Land Registry is already holding further discussions with the sector to explore removing the need for a witness by using secure technology that can verify an individual’s identity.
Sam Mitchell, chief executive of estate agent Strike, said: “This is arguably a long-overdue step for the property market – but an encouraging sign of the industry finally making a move towards greater digitisation.
“Although it might be a small change, it’s an important one, helping to speed up the process of moving and making it easier for all.”
Adam Forshaw, managing director of conveyancing firm O’Neill Patient, said: “Even before 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.”
Samantha Partington is a freelance trade and consumer journalist writing about property and personal finance. Previously she worked worked for the Daily Mail and Property Week. She is the former deputy editor of Mortgage Solutions and editor of Specialist Lending Solutions.
Before becoming a journalist, Samantha worked as a mortgage broker and latterly for a mortgage, bridging and secured loan lender. Samantha is CeMAP qualified. Follow her on Twitter @SamJPartington1.