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Facing up to the digital identity challenge

Woman scans face with mobile phone.

The prevention of property fraud obviously relies on the accurate verification of the parties to the transaction. Even in the best of circumstances, conveyancers checking the identity of their clients personally can be inconvenient to both. It also relies on the skill and attention to detail of person doing the checking, which can be variable. By contrast, there are technological means of checking electronic passports and similar that can be highly consistent and accurate.

The current processes in conveyancing do not feel very 21st century and they have proved difficult to maintain in the current crisis. So what can we do about it?

Digital identity checks and the conveyancing sector

We, along with the Law Society, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) and the Chartered Institute for Legal Executives (CILEx), believe that cryptographic and biometric checking of identity, using microchip-enabled passports or identity cards, might present a new, robust and convenient answer to the need to maintain social distancing while verifying an applicant’s identity.

The four organisations have been working together, alongside representatives from across the conveyancing industry, to find ways to help the property market during the coronavirus crisis.

The current crisis has highlighted the immediate need for an easy-to-use, modestly-priced, remote and digitally secure way for conveyancers to securely identify the buyers and sellers of a property. We will be hosting a virtual event to explore how we can help identity solution providers to develop an accessible service for conveyancers. If you would like to be involved in this event, please do add your details to the sign-up form.

Recent guidance for the legal sector from the Legal Sector Affinity Group noted “As an alternative to face-to face documentary verification, legal practices and practitioners may adopt or further utilise electronic means of ID&V [identity and verification] where appropriate to the risks present in the client/transaction.”

As the market for conveyancing services expands again post lockdown conveyancers will be looking for solutions that support distanced working. There are currently nearly 4,000 active conveyancing businesses and they are looking to providers to give them the safe and secure solution they can rely on deliver great customer service at a distance.

Using digital identity checks

Using cryptographic combined with biometric identity solutions presents a potential simple solution. When using these technologies the user places their smartphone next to their passport. The app then analyses the information from the passport chip to cryptographically check the validity of the passport. The user then records a video, which is then compared with the passport photo on the chip to achieve facial recognition. This can be done using a smartphone (Android and iPhones included), wherever they are, and the results are near immediate.

It is essentially the same technology as is used in the automatic immigration barriers at airports. The Home Office used the process for the EU settlement scheme applications of which 79% of users rated it as easy or fairly easy to use.

Evidence indicates this to be a more reliable and secure identity check than visual passport or other identity document checks.

We would encourage potential suppliers of this technology to consider how they might meet the needs of the property market, so that conveyancers might use these cryptographic combined with biometric checks now and in the future. We encourage any providers interested in joining us for the virtual event to add your details to the sign-up form.

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  1. Comment by John W posted on

    I hope that the elderly and the partially sighted, who have neither a smartphone nor a passport nor any use let alone need for either, will not be overlooked in the way that they usually are

  2. Comment by Chris Adams posted on

    The procedure for Trust documentation requires two witnesses will this continue under these ideas.

    • Replies to Chris Adams>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      Chris - The legal requirements for signing deeds for land registration purposes are unchanged. However, we are exploring options for electronic signatures and this may in the future mean that witnessing is not required.

  3. Comment by David Moss posted on

    I trust that HM Land Registry, the Law Society, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) and the Chartered Institute for Legal Executives (CILEx) will be duly sceptical when it comes to assessing the reliability of today's mass consumer biometrics technology.

    Assume that it doesn't work, please, and demand proof that it does by way of large-scale public trial results from the suppliers, along with warranties.

  4. Comment by Christopher Goddard posted on

    A useful approach might be to at least reference the ID system used in many EU states: notarization. This so far rather cumbersome method is now under transformation to a digital system, e.g. in Estonia, a leader in this field. However, a digital system may be unsuitable for important acts such as wills & dealings with real estate, at least without further safeguards e.g. Facial recognition...

  5. Comment by Robin Ankele posted on

    EYN ( provides chip-based identity verification and would be delighted to help any business to verify their clients.

    • Replies to Robin Ankele>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      Robin - Thank you for your comment and thank you for signing up to the virtual event. We look forward to discussing this with you further.

  6. Comment by Chris Heron posted on

    Hi, my name is Chris Heron and I am leading a group that is producing a global property trading platform using blockchain, smart contracts, deep learning, and tokenization of assets. The intention is to link together all the projects like yours in an ecosystem to reduce costs, increase security, and reduce friction. If it is of interest \i would love to talk to you about it?


  7. Comment by Bob McNally posted on

    This seems very similar to the KYC /ID checking formalities adopted by the likes of Monzo and Revolut - if it is acceptable to the FCA and PRA for on- line banks then it should be acceptable to the Land Registry. However, has the SRA commented upon whether a solicitor placing reliance on this form of KYC and taking instructions will have done sufficient to satisfy the SRA Core principles?

  8. Comment by Marcus Hall posted on

    We regularly face either the outright refusal of conveyancers, commissioners for oaths and similar firms (who should know better) to perform identity checks, or who will only provide that service in return for exorbitant and therefore prohibitive fees.

    It takes *nothing* at all for a responsible person to check someone's identity document and sign to confirm that they have checked it.

    Why not simply persuade the conveyancing industry to stop ripping off their customers (ie the public) and charge a simple flat fee of, say, £10 for a quick "call-in and verify your documents" service?

    And save the taxpayer the countless millions of pounds that any new scheme will cost.

  9. Comment by Michael C posted on

    There is software available already that will take a small amount of imagery of a person's face, or a short video, and manipulate it to create a false image or video of that person. If there is no face-to-face contact between the person whose identity is being verified and the person who has a duty to verify it I foresee difficulties. The case of P&P Property v Owen White and Catlin LLP in 2016 shows that there is no substitute for the application of common sense and direct contact between the parties. In that case (in my view) the solicitor who was attempting to verify the identity of the fraudster ticked the boxes but didn't use her common sense to respond properly to warning flags. I foresee much more box ticking and much less common sense if the proposed system is brought into use.
    And I certainly wouldn't allow my phone to become the repository of any details of my passport because I have had to grant numerous apps the right to look at images and other data on the device. Zoom is just the latest app to demand this right.
    The recent failure of the government's proposed Track and Trace app gives further cause for concern.
    The Victorians had their wits about them when they created the Wills Act 1837 in response to growing numbers of will frauds. Sometimes the old ways are the best ways.