Skip to main content

https://hmlandregistry.blog.gov.uk/2020/07/27/electronic-signatures-in-practice/

Electronic signatures in practice 

An illustration of a laptop computer displaying an electronic signature.
Golden Sikorka/Shutterstock.com

As announced in our news story published today (27 July 2020), HM Land Registry is now accepting dispositionary deeds (such as transferring , creating leases and securing mortgages) that have been signed with a witnessed electronic signature. We have updated practice guide 8: execution of deeds with details of the steps and measures our customers will need to take when using electronic signatures.

We fast-tracked our work on electronic signatures because of the help it would give our customers facing the challenges of working away from their offices in recent months. However, the benefits of using electronic signatures go well beyond meeting the immediate problems for conveyancers working from home. Removing the need for paper deeds and post from the conveyancing transaction speeds up the process and is a vital component of the increasingly online process of buying property.

By updating this guidance, we hope that conveyancers will be confident of our expectations and standards and also that the providers of electronic signature solutions will be able to develop more options for conveyancers to use.

This guidance was developed in discussion with the market, having taken our thoughts to our industry forum - a representative collection of regulatory bodies as well as conveyancers and lenders. We also shared our initial draft guidance via a blog which explored our current plans regarding electronic signatures, where we requested feedback on this draft.

Feedback

We received a lot of feedback – including 61 comments from the blog and a number raised directly through the industry forum.

A lot of these comments welcomed the change, acknowledging it is a positive step for the sector. We also had confirmation from several electronic signature solution providers that they can meet the proposed practice and are encouraged to see HM Land Registry move in this direction.

As a result, we made several important changes to our drafted guidance.

Providing witness details

We amended step 1 of the signing and dating process to make it clear that witness details can be added by a conveyancer or the signer. This was raised by a number of respondents. This also allows for details of a witness to be added later in the process.

Witness signing

We amended step 5 of the signing and dating process because a number of people were unclear about what the word “contemporaneous” means in practice. The legal formalities required to validly execute a deed are unchanged and the amended guidance reflects this.

Retaining completion certificates / audit reports

We amended the guidance to make it clear that signatories’ conveyancers should retain a copy of the completion certificate or audit report produced by the electronic signature platform with their conveyancing file.

A few responses also questioned whether we should require the production of the completion certificate or audit report with the application and while we have not made this change at this stage, we will keep this under review.

Addressing additional concerns

There were a number of further concerns which were raised but we did not feel able to adjust our planned practice. But we did want to address some of the more common concerns.

Availability of options currently on the market

Our first concern has to be the security and integrity of the process. When we researched the market in electronic signature providers, it was apparent that none quite fitted what we thought would likely be the requirements. So we recognised early on that some development would be needed by the providers. We have been actively engaging with them for that reason throughout. We hope that in publishing the final practice guidance today, electronic signature providers will be able to quickly adapt their existing offerings to meet our requirements. Indeed, we have heard exactly this from a number of providers.

Two-factor authentication

A number of respondents did not agree with our two-factor authentication requirement for witnesses.

We consider that two-factor authentication for witnesses as well as signers is appropriate to assure HM Land Registry that two unique individuals have signed. We will, however, be open to future changes around the appropriate methods of authentication we should accept. For example, it may be acceptable for a telephone call to be made instead of sending a text message to the signer and witness.

Conveyancer’s certificate

It was suggested that we amend the certificate which we have asked a conveyancer to provide, so that it can be given on behalf of the law firm rather than by an individual conveyancer. However, we believe it appropriate for a conveyancer to provide assurance that the signing process has been followed to the best of their own knowledge and belief. The conveyancer lodging the application should provide the certificate.

When any future changes are made to the guidance we will say when they are to take effect so that conveyancers are able provide the required certificate.

Our next steps

We are already holding further discussions with the sector to explore the potential introduction of qualified electronic signatures as soon as practically possible. Qualified electronic signatures are a form of digital signature that verify the signatory’s identity before they sign. They have the potential to be more secure than all current means of completing a transaction and they conveniently remove the need for a witness. If they do develop to be a successful option for completing property transactions, we will review the continued use of witnessed electronic signatures and may withdraw their acceptance, which would leave only the more secure qualified electronic signatures in use.

I would like to again thank everyone who was involved in the consultation process and we will continue to work closely with conveyancers and technology solutions providers to ensure that we make it possible to use this new technology in a secure and sensible manner.

For further information on this work I would encourage you to read Mike Harlow’s recent blog on the topic, and to read the updated practice guide 8: execution of deeds

We welcome your comments about this blog in the comments below. Please note that we are unable to discuss individual cases through the comments section and would request that all such queries be directed to our contact web form where you will receive a response as soon as possible.

Sharing and comments

Share this page

8 comments

  1. Comment by PETER SAMIR MAAMARI posted on

    DEAR LAND REGISTRY 27 JULY 2020 I THINK IT IS A GOOD IDEA THE ELECTRONIC SIGNATURES I HOPE ALL GOES WELL

    Reply
  2. Comment by Neil Budd posted on

    Dear Mr Malpas

    Could you please advise whether there are now any electronic signature products on the market that meet your requirements.

    Can you please also advise whether you will be updating the blog when any products are available and do you have any anticipated timescales? If not, are you intending to modify your requirements so that existing products can be used by practitioners? As a small law firm, it would not be feasible to engage a software company to develop a bespoke solution.

    Reply
    • Replies to Neil Budd>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      Neil - when we researched the market in electronic signature providers, it was apparent that none quite fitted what we thought would likely be the requirements. So we recognised early on that some development would be needed by the providers. We have been actively engaging with them for that reason throughout.

      As a government department, we do not wish to provide any particular electronic signature provider with an unfair advantage, so we cannot provide a list of available platforms, or make recommendations as to their suitability for witnessed electronic signatures.

      We have however had a number of direct conversations with a wide range of providers who have confirmed that they are keen to and are already altering their processes to fit with our requirements.
      As such if you are already using such a product it might be worth checking with them re progress on any updates/changes to their software. The alternative would be to check with the conveyancer fraternity/network for recommendations as the subject has and continues to be discussed

      Reply
      • Replies to AdamH>

        Comment by Neil Budd posted on

        Dear Adam

        Thanks very much for your reply.

        I note your comment that you don't provide a list of available platforms because, as a government department, you don't wish to provide any provider with an unfair advantage. However, in the case of making tax digital, that is exactly what HMRC do - see link below which provides a list of software products that meet HMRC's requirements.

        The product that I am currently using does not meet the 5 steps outlined in the Land Registry guidance note. Certainly I can check with them whether they are looking to do so but it would be helpful if you can follow the example of HMRC and provide a list of compliant products.

        Kind regards

        Neil

        https://www.tax.service.gov.uk/making-tax-digital-software

        Reply
        • Replies to Neil Budd>

          Comment by AdamH posted on

          Neil - many thanks and I’ll pass the details on to colleagues to consider

          Reply
          • Replies to AdamH>

            Comment by Neil Budd posted on

            Hi Adam

            Thanks very much.

            Kind regards

          • Replies to AdamH>

            Comment by AdamH posted on

            Neil - Im advised that We are always keeping our practice under review, particularly in so far as electronic signing is concerned, and we welcome all feedback received. We are grateful for your suggestion, which we will carefully consider.

            You will appreciate that we cannot comment specifically on the practice of other governmental departments such as HMRC. We understand that their list of software suppliers have been assessed and proved to meet the standard they set for that particular process. In preparing our practice on electronic signatures, as we have previously explained, we have been actively engaging with a number of service providers throughout the process to ensure that it is both practical and secure, and enables the provider to confirm to a user that their service meets the requirements.

  3. Comment by Claudine Boast (Parachute Law) posted on

    This is all good work, however, with COVID lasting on paper for up to 5 days, why is the Land Registry increasing the risk to solicitors, the public and Land Registry staff by continuing to insist on "wet ink signatures" on conveyancer's certificates?

    Surely it is enough that the Land Registry has the full contact details of the solicitor giving the certificate and can simply phone or email them (as they do for ID1s) to confirm the authenticity of the certificate?

    Continuing this antiquated and unnecessary requirement is not only irresponsible and inefficient, it is unnecessarily risking life. I look forward to seeing this issue dealt with as a matter or urgency.

    Reply

Leave a comment

We only ask for your email address so we know you're a real person

By submitting a comment you understand it may be published on this public website. Please read our privacy notice to see how the GOV.UK blogging platform handles your information.