Call For Evidence Response: Harnessing Technology Focus

The Government have recently published a summary of responses to last year’s Call for Evidence together with their response.

Published in November, the ‘Call for Evidence – Improving the Home Buying and Selling Process’ unsurprisingly sparked a variety of opinions being voiced across the industry.

The response to the document has now been published by the government, bringing together a summary of the feedback received as well as how the government plans to act going forward.

One of the sections within the original Call for Evidence focussed specifically on technology, inviting professionals to share their views on how it could be harnessed to improve the process.

Setting out the most common issues faced, the government then set out a number of questions as to the measures it could take to tackle these challenges. The responses, from both professionals and the government, are set out below.

How would a predominantly digital conveyancing process affect home buyers and sellers?

  • Of the 679 responses that this question received, the most common (37%) was that the home buying and selling process would be much quicker if a digital process was used.
  • Just under one in 10 (9%) felt that digitising the process would make it more transparent, whilst just over 5% stated that it would improve efficiency.
  • Some respondents stated that by adopting a fully digital process, all parties involved could have a shared chain view, potentially reducing delays as well as the drop-out rate.
  • Among respondents, there was a general sense of shift towards digitisation, with consumers already beginning to benefit. A couple of obstacles were highlighted by respondents, however, with aspects such as electronic signatures and ID verification perhaps requiring more clarification.
  • Whilst the majority who answered this question expressed support for digitisation, concerns regarding fraud and the impact on older consumers were highlighted by 14% and 9% respectively.
  • The impact of technology on conveyancers was also highlighted as a potential issue, with a number of respondents expressing concern about the role of professionals being reduced to a ‘tick-box’ exercise.
  • Some respondents also mentioned the potential barriers which smaller firms could face, given that they may not be able to invest in and implement the latest technology to be able to adapt.

Issuing their response to the feedback, the government stated:

‘We firmly believe that technology has the potential to revolutionise the way in which we buy and sell houses. We are encouraged that progress has already been made and we want to work with industry to ensure that innovation can continue. We note the very real concerns raised about the increased risk of fraud and we want to work with industry to make sure that levels of fraud continue to be minimised. We would also like to set up an industry working group with HM Land Registry to drive progress on ID verification and the acceptance e-signatures, and ensure that these are implemented in a way which minimises the risk of fraudulent transactions.

‘We also note the concerns raised about the impact on people who are not digital natives. We believe that there should always be a place for face to face contact. We would expect technology to be used in a way which enables those people who are less comfortable with technology to still feel able to participate. We do not see that this should be a significant barrier to a digital process. We also acknowledge the concerns about the impact of technology on conveyancers but hope that technology will enhance their role so that they are recognised for their expertise and advice rather than just their ability to assemble all of the relevant information.’

 

What should the government do to accelerate the development of e-conveyancing?

  • Whilst this question received a reasonable response of 593, there was no clear consensus as to the steps the government should take.
  • Some respondents took the view that the shift towards e-conveyancing was already taking place, often making reference to the plans of industry organisations such from HM Land Registry. Whilst 6% felt that HMLR should receive ongoing support from the government, approximately 3% expressed concern over the potential risk of fraud.
  • The most common technological suggestion made was that of a digital platform to be adopted by all parties to the transaction, put forward by 9%. As highlighted previously, it was also mentioned that steps should be taken to reduce the obstacles faced in regard to digitisation, potentially by engaging with the sector.
  • Around one in 10 felt that e-conveyancing should be made mandatory, with a slightly larger proportion taking the view that government intervention would not be the best option.
  • With an aim to encourage companies to increase their investment in innovation and technology on a general basis, over 7% of respondents felt that the government should offer financial incentives or funding.
  • Suggestions for a taskforce were also made, where the government would work with a group of professionals to help drive e-conveyancing development.

Issuing their response to the feedback, the government stated:

‘We are encouraged by the feedback which suggests that the move towards e-conveyancing has already begun. We were not surprised by the wide range of potential solutions offered by respondents to this question, as we believe that progress will be made via a large number of small increments rather than a single panacea. We are pleased that the work being taken forward by HM Land Registry is being recognised and we are keen for this to continue.

‘We do not think that mandating a move to e-conveyancing through legislation would be helpful at this point, although we acknowledge that this has been successful in countries such as Australia. However, we do want progress to continue to be made, so we will be setting up a technology working group to help drive through changes. Amongst the first items, this group will look at is digital signatures and ID verification. We are also investigating routes to market for innovative digital solutions.’

 

Are there any particular public sector datasets which you think should be released as open data in order to drive innovation in the home buying and selling process?

  • Whilst the responses to this question referenced a variety of different datasets, the most commonly requested were search data including Local Land Charges and CON29 (over 16%), data on planning permissions and building regulations (over 11%) and more HMLR data (over 9%). A number of respondents felt that it was just as important to maintain existing available data in order to ensure that the quality remains high.
  • Also among responses were requests for more data on new build plots, adopted roads, tree preservation orders and leaseholds.
  • Some were also eager to obtain more data on historic services provided by conveyancers as well as on house prices. It was felt that this could assist those when first embarking in the transaction process.
  • 13% felt that there were no further requirements where the openness of data was concerned.

Issuing their response to the feedback, the government stated:

‘We remain committed to the principle of making data freely available where there is a clear case for doing so. We will continue to keep the position on the data which is needed for home buying and selling under review, and will continue to work with other public sector bodies and HM Land Registry in particular to make the relevant datasets publically available where possible.’

 

How could other parts of the home buying and selling process be improved through better use of digital technology?

  • Of the 536 responses received, the most common suggestion (11%) was the development of a chain view, with the feeling being that this could improve transparency and reduce worry over the chain.
  • Similar answers were also given as referred to above; these included streamlining the ID verification process (8%), advocation of digital signatures (7%), a communication platform for all parties (6%), the development of property log books (5%) and the use of blockchain (over 3%).
  • Respondents also suggested that provision and availability of leasehold information could be improved, with the potential for digital access.
  • The challenge of moving day was also highlighted, with respondents stating that delays – as buyers often have to wait for confirmation of the funds being transferred – can cost consumers significantly.

Issuing their response to the feedback, the government stated:

‘We agree with those respondents who suggested that a chain view should be developed. We believe that a common understanding of the status of chain members would help to give consumers confidence in the process and could in some cases speed the process up. We are aware that a number of PropTech firms are actively looking at the home buying and selling process, and we expect this sort of technology to be introduced within the next couple of years. We will work with innovators to explore routes to market for technological solutions.

‘We want to work with all parties in the process to make sure that the opportunities for using technology are maximised through our technology working group. We will also work with conveyancers, lenders and removal firms to look at the scope for improving the process around the transfer of funds upon completion.’

The document can be accessed here.

 

Commenting on the proposal’s was InfoTrack’s General Manager of Marketing Adam Bullion. He stated:

“It’s a positive step to see the government recognising a need to work with the industry and public sector bodies to encourage the adoption of technology. From easily issuing quotes, to providing a high quality customer experience, as well as creating internal efficiencies – digital tools can bring benefits across the conveyancing process. While previously there has been concern over job security when innovative technology is adopted, these findings reveal there’s a slight wariness that technology could reduce the professional standing of conveyancers. There’s no need for these fears because in reality, technology can empower conveyancers to enhance how they operate both internally and for their clients. Firms that start using the technology available to them will recognise how it saves them time during administrative processes, freeing up time that can instead be spent providing a top-class customer service that home movers won’t forget.”

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