A New Digital Direction: Why We Welcome e-Signatures

Today's Conveyancer

24 August 2020

Confirmation that the Land Registry will accept witnessed electronic signatures on documents relating to transfers of ownership of property, leases, mortgages and other property dealings from 27 July 2020 must be welcomed by the industry.

There are two types of signatures available: a digital signature, which is offered by DocuSign (and Adobe Acrobat Pro DC) which comes with strict legal regulations and is accompanied by a digital certificate that can be relied upon in court. There is also an electronic signature, which is offered by Adobe Acrobat Reader’s Fill&Sign or other pdf readers which purely replaces a handwritten signature. The Law Society and Land Registry now accept both a digital and an electronic signature.

There has been much talk over the years, about how the move towards digital conveyancing will speed up workflows. Largely it’s been just talk! There has also been discussion about conveyancers’ reticence to adopt new technology in order to achieve this. However, conveyancers’ hands have been tied because the main bodies have not been in a place to accept digital signatures. Now, the move by both the Land Registry and the Law Society to accept witnessed electronic signatures is a bold step which denotes a significant milestone in the journey towards a digital conveyancing chain.

It’s also part of a wider shift by the industry to simplify, digitalise and share information, spurred on by the Pandemic. And everyone included in property transactions does need to be involved and committed to the move to digital, to make a difference long term.

The good news is that we are seeing positive changes. Many local authorities are now providing search information digitally and they must be applauded for this. To date, eleven local authorities’ local land charges data have been transferred to HM Land Registry’s digital service, with Milton Keynes Council due to make it twelve by the end of August.

Mortgage providers are going digital too. A completely digital mortgage, where borrowers don’t need to meet in person with a lender or broker for ID checks or to complete paperwork, has suddenly become a valuable benefit for customers in our new virtual world and it’s speeding up communication.

Technology companies have also stepped up. New online portals now enable conveyancers to exchange sensitive information with clients securely, eliminating the need to print and post or meet in person, providing the necessary ID checks can be verified.

With all pieces of the conveyancing chain moving in the right digital direction, it seems the necessary elements to develop a virtual conveyancing journey are finally coming together. If one good thing can come out of this Pandemic, it’s the increased use of technology which opens the door for greater efficiencies, in-turn offering real benefits in terms of time saving for conveyancing teams and their clients alike.

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