HM Land Registry supports the ‘call for kindness’
Written by Adam Ford, Deputy Director of Customer Services, HM Land Registry
The last year has seen the conveyancing sector face incredible pressures. Not only have conveyancers had to adapt to working during a global pandemic but you’ve had to react to a huge increase in caseloads.
It’s a credit to the sector that so many sales have taken place during these immensely turbulent times. The dedication and professionalism shown by the sector has ensured that the property market has kept moving.
We have seen so many accounts of conveyancers having very challenging interactions with some of their clients, and even other conveyancers, compounding the pressure brought on by the increased workload.
HM Land Registry is not immune to these impacts either, shifting an organisation of over 6,000 staff to secure, remote working has had an impact on our services. It has also affected our staff.
The Today’s Conveyancer Call for Kindness campaign has done a great job of highlighting the impact that the pressures facing the sector has on the people working within. We would like to add our support to the campaign.
Our customer charter, launched in 2018, states our commitment to treat our customers with courtesy and respect, and to respond promptly and professionally to all queries. It also asks our customers to do the same with our staff. We’ve also signed up to the Institute of Customer Services’ Campaign “Service with Respect,” designed to address the hostility faced by frontline staff across all sectors. These initiatives are especially important at the moment given the pressures everyone is working under.
What we offer now
We worked hard to ensure most of our colleagues were able to work remotely however, to keep our most important services running, a number of our colleagues have continued to work from our offices. Alongside keeping our services going, we knew we needed to get our customer support centre (CSC) up and running. We’ve been extending the opening hours throughout the last year as quickly as we could, as well as introducing new tools like our online form to help us prioritise the most urgent enquiry.
Our customer support centre colleagues have been working from their homes throughout the crisis, ensuring they are working where they cannot be overheard by those they live with to protect our customers’ confidentiality, and dealing with complex and challenging calls. One example of these challenges is the rising number of calls we are receiving relating to bereavement. So, I ask that you to please remain patient when contacting our colleagues, they are facing many of the same pressures that you are. Please consider using the online contact form if your enquiry is not urgent.
Our commitment to our customers goes beyond the manner in which we work together. We want to ensure we are transparent in how we work, which is why we publish our current service speeds. We are looking at how we can provide even greater clarity for our customers around our services, including reminding customers about how to use our expedite service.
We made a series of changes last year to our processes, such as enabling ID verification to take place over a video call, and we will continue to explore what we can do to make conveyancer’s lives easier. This was the rationale behind giving more time to reply to a request for information (requisition) – we believe that giving more time will allow some issues time to self-resolve and will reduce the burden of applying for an extension or risk cancelling the original application.
We want to work with our customers to improve these services. We recently launched a function for customers to ‘View my applications’ on our online business e-services portal – providing a quick, clear view of all outstanding applications. We have now added a new feature which provides an estimated completion date for every register change or update application submitted via portal, giving customers an overview of the progress of each of their cases on one screen. This is available for all portal users now.
At the end of April we introduced another new enhancement to portal, one that represents a key milestone in the digitalisation of land registration: the Digital Registration Service (DRS).
Prior to launch, we tested DRS with around 1,800 individual customers from around 500 organisations and on April 26 we gave all customers access. This enhancement will validate the data contained in an application, such as names and fees. By catching these errors before submitting, this will lower the number of requisitions generated and therefore will reduce the overall time taken for applications, but it is more than that. This service is a huge step in the direction of a fully digital conveyancing process, where the data submitted by conveyancers is automatically checked before it is lodged. This will mean the register can be updated automatically for simple transactions, without human intervention, enabling our caseworkers to spend more time on more complex cases. We want this to be the way nearly all applications are sent to us.
I mentioned above that COVID has had an impact on our services. Our absolute top priority is to reduce any delays, both those caused by the pandemic and those existing beforehand. Our current processing times are not where we want them to be in the longer term, and we are absolutely determined to reduce them. Given the pressures on the market, we are focussing our efforts on ensuring no property sales are delayed on account of HM Land Registry – any issues should be raised with us and applications expedited where possible.
We recently recruited 500 more staff to help improve process incoming applications. These staff need time to be fully trained to accurately process the complex applications we receive.
We are also doing everything we can to find efficiencies across our business. Examples of this include finding ways to reduce the administrative burden of the request for information (requisition) process and introducing automation within our services where practical, such as in the issuing of requisition reminder letters (C90a).
We know that the only way we will truly improve our service speeds is through our digital transformation. We are making great progress with this work, with major improvements to the way we process applications, the way the data is held on the register, and the way applications are lodged. With the latest developments in electronic signatures and digital identity checks, we are laying the foundations of a truly digital conveyancing process which will make things simpler, faster and cheaper for everyone involved in the conveyancing process.
With expectations that the increased levels of activity within the sector will continue throughout 2021, we want to support the message of the Call for Kindness campaign. We will continue to work with our customers to not only provide the information they need now, but also to keep striving to improve our services in the long run.
We need to work together, with courtesy and respect, now more than ever.