A look back on conveyancing in 2020

2020 has undoubtedly been a year like no other, and in some respects is one that many of us will be happy to see the back of. Turn the clock back 12 months, and not many people would have been prepared for the consequences a worldwide pandemic would have on both the UK and the world.

Brexit was seemingly going to be the go-to word of the year for 2020, as the UK began a 12 month transition process. However, a couple of months into the year, the new word on everyone’s lips was coronavirus, or Covid-19.

Thousands of people have sadly lost their lives in the UK, nationwide and local lockdowns, tiered restrictions and social distancing measures were all introduced to help keep people safe, prevent the spread of the virus and keep the economy ticking along.

Although there have undoubtedly been some lows, the legal sector and conveyancing in particular has experienced a mini housing boom and has taken some steps into the digital age.

Electronic and digital signatures

In July, HM Land Registry announced that they would begin to accept electronic and digital signatures on deeds.

Mike Harlow, the Deputy Chief Executive and Deputy Chief Land Registrar, announced in his blog that following the many questions received from customers regarding electronic signatures, as “printing, posting and scanning can be a pain”, Land Registry will soon be introducing witnessed electronic signatures.

Eviction Ban

In reaction to the unprecedented situation the world was in, the Government brought about fundamental new measures to shield renters and landlords of the crippling effect of Covid-19 at the end of March this year. Emergency legislation ensured to protect renters while the national pandemic took place, which meant a complete ban on evictions from social or private rented accommodation.

The ban was due to end in England and Wales on Monday 24 August but the Government had a dramatic u-turn just days before it was to expire, announcing an extension of the Eviction Ban for a further 4 weeks.

It was officially announced the stay on evictions had been extended until 20 September 2020, and there will be a new six-month notice period on any eviction notices served by landlords, providing a reprieve for tenants.

Stamp Duty Land Tax holiday

At the beginning of July this year, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the temporary cut to Stamp Duty, which meant the threshold was raised to £500,000 for all buyers with immediate effect. The Chancellor’s reasoning behind the move was to boost jobs in the sector and improve confidence of buyers and sellers.

Since the introduction of the holiday, the housing industry has reported a significant uplift, including an increased demand for conveyancers, including a increased interest from overseas buyers too.

With the Stamp duty holiday due to end on the 31 March 2021, one of the UK’s leading independent real estate consultancy, Knight Frank, has stated that the stamp duty holiday, which has raised the threshold in which stamp duty becomes payable, should be made permanent.

Money Laundering Regulations

The Fifth Money Laundering Directive (5AMLD) ensued at the beginning of 2020 as we entered a new decade, superseding the Money Laundering Regulations from 2017.

Professionals and firms had to ready themselves for 5AMLD which came into force on the 10 January 2020.

Now with a vaccine being rolled out to combat the virus, and the UK creeping towards independence from the EU, 2021 is set to be another year which could hold further changes for the legal sector.

Conveyancing Standards Bill

In October the Conveyancing Standards Bill passed its first reading in Parliament. The Bill would establish minimum standards regarding search and assessment of risks for solicitors and licensed conveyancers acting on behalf of purchasers of residential properties and for connected purposes.

EWS1 Certificates aren’t needed in all cases

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick revealed that homes without cladding would no longer need an ESW1 external wall safety certificate. The housing secretary said the decision to ease checks for blocks without cladding would help almost 450,000 homeowners who “may have felt stuck in limbo”.

What do you think 2021 holds for the sector?

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