Commercial Property

HM Land Registry introduction of electronic signatures

Transfers of ownership of property, leases, mortgages, and other property dealings can now be signed electronically, hopefully making it simpler and faster for people to move home.

05 Jul 2023

Team name
Emma Boys-Smith

Emma Boys Smith

Transfers of ownership of property, leases, mortgages, and other property dealings can now be signed electronically, hopefully making it simpler and faster for people to move home.

In Summer 2020 HM Land Registry, introduced electronic signatures as an alternative to wet-ink signatures for deeds and documents relating to property transactions.

The Land Registry also introduced their digital identity standard which contains 4 requirements that conveyancer’s must be aware of when dealing with property transactions. For more information see:  https://www.mplaw.co.uk/insights/news/hm-land-registry…dentity-standard/ ‎

HM Land Registry requires that the witness be physically present when the deed is signed, the witness then adding their signature.

Witnessed electronic signatures

From Monday 27th July 2020 HM Land Registry will accept ‘witnessed electronic signatures’ but are also exploring other electronic signature methods

  1. A witness is still required to be present, who can also ‘sign’ electronically.
  2. Signing will involve a digital signature instead of wet pen ink.
  3. A conveyancer will need to upload the deed to an online platform which sends a link to the signatories.
  4. In every case the online platform would need to include two-factor authentication to authenticate the signatories and witness accessing the deed and provide assurance that unique individuals have signed. A link to the document is emailed and then an authentication code sent to the individual’s mobile phone.
  5. Once the necessary authentication checks have been performed, the parties would then ‘sign’ the document electronically in the physical presence of the witness who then also signs electronically.
  6. The conveyancer is then notified that the signing process has been concluded and, once they have effected completion of the deed, can submit the completed deed to HM Land Registry with their application for registration.

Qualified electronic signatures

Once the technology matures, HM Land Registry are exploring whether Qualified Electronic Signatures will replace Witnessed Electronic Signatures

  1. Qualified electronic signatures operate on the basis that a Qualified Trust Service Provider’ has standards in place to securely and accurately verify the identity of the signatory and protect the integrity of the document.
  2. Generally, the document would be uploaded by the conveyancer, the signatory would access the document but would need to meet the identification requirements of the Qualified Trust Service Provider before signing. The signed document is then made available to the conveyancer to access and submit to HM Land Registry.
  3. Qualified Electronic Signatures are considered more secure as the ID checking and encryption need to be undertaken to a set standard and are controlled by a regulated body.

Mercury signatures

Mercury signatures were introduced on 4 May 2020 and will remain available regardless of the ongoing research around Qualified Electronic Signatures.

  1. This approach allows for a signature page to be signed in pen in the physical presence of a witness.
  2. The signature page will then need to be digitally captured i.e. scanned or photographed and produced as a PDF, JPEG or other suitable cop).
  3. Each party is then to send this by email to their conveyancer attaching the final agreed copy of the document and the copy of the signed signature page.

Why has this been introduced and what does the future look like in respect of digital execution transactions?

The government have been looking into the convenience that digital land and property transactions have, particularly when the pandemic hit. They were mindful that the market was adopting the security and convenience that these digital tools can provide. Using digital methods, allows for less reliance on the postal service and less administrative tasks. However, when executing documents, it is important that those singing also have complied with digital identity verification.

Therefore, some providers have sought to bring these two requirements together.

Overall, the government say this could lead to a certified identity, to an agreed standard, which is also compliant with both HM Land Registry and Anti-Money Laundering standards. Meaning that it could be re-used and relied upon by multiple parties in the transaction under trust framework principle i.e., from estate agent to mortgage broker, through to lender and conveyancer. This would eliminate the need for a party to a property transaction to prove their identity several times with each stage of the transaction.

It could also deliver the ability to sign documents using a very secure digital signature without the need for witnessing. Which the government are hoping for steer away from electronic documents and towards the signing of data that can be read and validated instantly by HM Land Registry and other parties such as conveyancers.

M&P Commentary

Emma Boys-Smith, Trainee Solicitor in the Commercial Property Team Said:

“We continue to see various changes that the HM Land registry and the government have made that indicate we are moving towards a solely digital property market. It will certainly be interesting to see how the market will be affected by these changes.”

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