Back in July we started accepting electronic signatures on conveyancing deeds. That removed the last strict requirement for paper and wet-ink signatures in the conveyancing process.
Soon after issuing our practice note on how to use them, we began to receive electronically signed deeds.
The original draft of the practice guidance was informed by a consultative process, and over the last two months we have continued to listen to and learn from our customers and signature providers. We recently updated the practice to widen the scope of the use of witnessed electronic signatures. We will continue to work with both customers and technology providers to improve our practice guidance and make sure that it stays up to date and works for everyone.
Witnessed electronic signatures
The type of electronic signatures you can currently use we call ‘witnessed electronic signatures’. The electronic signature simply replaces the wet-ink signature. If a witness is required, as it is for all deeds in the name of an individual, you still need someone to be present to witness you signing electronically and the witness then needs to sign electronically also.
Electronic signature providers understand how this works and have adapted, or are adapting, their services to enable ‘witnessed electronic signatures’. As the process is simple and the change from current ways of creating deeds is minimal we see this approach as having broad appeal to conveyancers, particularly in the current circumstances where printing and posting is harder and slower.
Adding qualified electronic signatures
When we first announced our work on electronic signatures, we said that we believed that, in the longer-term, qualified electronic signatures potentially provided a more secure and convenient option for conveyancing. This type of signature does not require a witness as the process has an embedded identity check within it, the output is encrypted to create an indelible record and it all works to a regulated standard.
While we do believe they are likely to be a success, the identity processes within them are still developing and their use with consumers in our property market is obviously untested. They may initially suit some types of conveyancer more than others.
So, our intention is to work with the sector to bring them in as an option as soon as possible, but with the expectation that they will be used alongside witnessed electronic signatures for some time to come. We will at some point review the use of witnessed electronic signatures, but not until qualified electronic signatures have shown how they perform in practice for the various different uses within the property market. That may take some time – possibly a couple of years or more. In the meantime, we will continue to support the growing use of both types of signature, as a cornerstone of a more resilient and digital conveyancing process.
We are getting close to having draft practice guidance for qualified electronic signatures which we will share with everyone in the market for initial feedback in the coming weeks. As with witnessed electronic signatures, we will evolve the guidance according to your feedback. It may then take a few months for the qualified electronic signature providers to tailor their services to meet the conveyancing sector’s needs.
An electronic signature is one of the key foundation stones of a truly digital conveyancing process. Digital identity checking, digital deeds and digital land registration processes are among the others. Those are also what we are and will be working on with our partners in the industry in the coming months. We will keep you updated here.
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