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Encouraging digital identity checking in conveyancing

Trismegist san/

A few months ago I wrote about the inconvenience and inconsistency of manually verifying a client’s identity – inconvenience for both lawyers and their clients. Along with the Law Society, the Chartered Institute for Legal Executives and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, we recognised the potential for digital identity verification tools to provide a more secure, efficient and convenient means of identifying the parties to a transaction, particularly during a pandemic. While techniques such as facial recognition against a passport are being used in several walks of life, they are not available to conveyancers as yet.

We want to do what we can to support the sector to see the development of easy-to-use, modestly-priced, remote and digitally secure options for conveyancers to use with their clients.

Ensuring you know who you are dealing with in an increasingly digital and online world is vitally important to the trust and confidence in the registration of land, and conveyancing process more generally.

After a series of events with conveyancers and identity service providers over the summer we have developed a draft set of requirements that are aimed at encouraging digital identity checks. We would welcome your feedback by close of play on Friday 11 December.

Designing the draft identity checking standard

Our virtual events to bring together conveyancers and technology suppliers helped us collect thoughts from everyone involved in the development and use of digital identity solutions. We explored what solutions were available and what the barriers were that needed to be overcome. It was apparent that there is existing usable technology that has the potential not only to meet conveyancers’ needs but to also give consumers and property businesses greater security and convenience.

Our conclusion was that a strong catalyst for the development of identity checking services aimed at the conveyancing market would be an HM Land Registry standard. We believe that a published set of requirements will provide the clarity needed to the market and best steer the investment and development.

Our objectives for the standard

  1. Set out a clearly defined category of digital identity checking means that we believe are both achievable and viable with current technology and which offer the most security.
  2. Be clear that this is not a compulsory standard. Other means of identifying parties to a transaction may still be used.
  3. Demonstrate our confidence in the use of digital identity checks by stating that if the standard is met there will be no question that the conveyancer has done enough to identify their clients and that accordingly there is no longer any risk of HM Land Registry seeking recourse for negligence in identity checking.

Setting the requirements

A good starting point for any identity standard is the guidance set out by the Cabinet Office in Good Practice Guide 45. This is the foundation for our digital identity requirements and one that we hope can be easily interpreted by identity service providers and their customers. Ease of interpretation is important as we do not plan to manage an accreditation process for identity providers or provide lists of suitable providers to the market. Instead, we hope the brevity of the requirements will allow simple self-certification by identity providers.  

We will, of course, keep them under review after adoption, as new technologies become available that might offer more security and greater convenience.

It is our hope that, in publishing clear standards for digital identification, we support the creation of affordable and accessible digital identity services that validate an identity remotely, with a higher level of assurance than a manual intervention, in a smooth and easy to understand process for the client.

We intend for the standard to align with work the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport is doing to implement an overarching framework for digital identity use across the economy.

One aspect not as yet covered in the document is how to relate a digitally identified person with a company or other corporate entity that is a party to the transaction. The identification of the individual who will be signing the transaction will be the same (requirements 1 to 3 in the standard). We are working with the Industry Forum on a variant of requirement 4 which will set out how that person is then reliably associated with the corporate entity.

The benefits of meeting the requirements

Meeting the standard will be optional. Conveyancers will be able to continue using all existing methods that meet their duty to identify their clients. However, those who can demonstrate that they have met the new standard will be protected, as HM Land Registry would not seek recourse against a conveyancer in the event their client was not who they claimed to be. That’s a demonstration of our confidence in the additional security offered by these techniques.

Offering this ‘safe harbour’ if the standard is achieved is an approach currently for a similar purpose, and one that we believe will encourage the adoption of new technology that will ultimately reduce the risk of fraud and costs, whilst also making everything easier for conveyancers and their clients.

Let us know your thoughts

We would invite everyone, particularly those who might supply and use the technology, to review the document and let us know your thoughts by close of play on Friday 11 December. All feedback will be reviewed and considered ahead of final publication – and we will explain our rationale for adopting or not adopting each suggestion when we publish.

We will continue to review the standard as new technology and measures are available to us and our customers.

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  1. Comment by J. Shaw, Nether Edge Law posted on

    [Also posted on LSG website]
    It sounds a good idea and will eliminate a certain amount of paperwork.
    But it will work only if users:
    a. need only source common items such as new client's passport/driving licence and a recent utility bill [NB: a lot of people receive these online-only nowadays!];
    b. have an insurance-backed guarantee that they are protected if they rely upon it but are innocent victims if there is fraud;
    c. know that PII providers, 'client account' banks, and mortgagees accept the scheme in its entirety without adding their own goldplating requirements;
    d. do not incur a cost more than about £10 per person; and
    e. are entitled by new SRA Rules to bill the cost to the new client concerned.

  2. Comment by YK posted on

    Why can't the existing government online identity checks give sufficient proof of identity and be used as a portal for e-signatures?

  3. Comment by Billy posted on

    A digital identity signifies the existence of a digital presence. Without digital presence a digital identity is null, without a digital identity the digital precense is null. In order for (a) digital identity to exist, a person must be analogous to human "digital" rights where one must equally breathe digital air - hence have uninterupted power supply, a computer of somekind, knowledge for this computer to use it, access to a digital network of verification, uninterupted supply of network coverage, money to support the technical nuianses etc. All these applications are for the time being just paraphernalia of digital commodities like modems, routers, smartphones, cables, servers, etc. that need monies to be acquired. Digital identities in this way is only a commodity based right and not a birth right, let alone a signifying some sort of human Identity in some form of shape that a specific agency will require. The abolition of identities in the UK back in 2011 did not bring equally the surfacing of digital identities with all its requirements. For this reason, British subjects are required to have a travel document called passport although they may never travel outside the UK to a country requiring a visa stamp. They need a driving license although they may never purchase or drive a motor vehicle. If they have neither they are doomed in the first place. Discussion about digital identity is somehow ambivalent since even basic identity checks lack basic infrastracture and providence of the tasks and energies needed for all these. The furtherance of digital age can only bring even more mayhem when digital avatars like Samsung's NEO and "deep fake" video calls substitute real life people with nothing but pixels and sound bits of resemblance of our real voices and faces grabbed by a stranger's 100 mpixel "old" phone and our address. I understand the problems caused by COVID but normal human interactions, have some failproof qualities no digital gizmo can overcome from a proxy place.