Safe Harbour is a positive catalytic change to sector

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the projects which have seen technology adopted to help make processes more efficient.

The legal sector, and specifically the area of conveyancing has been no different.

It has been over a month since HM Land Registry (HMLR) released their “Digital Identity Standard”  which enables home buyers to provide the identification check to conveyancers electronically.

Mike Harlow, General Counsel, Deputy Chief Executive and Deputy Chief Land Registrar has been working with people within the organisation to see how HMLR can introduce digital tools to the land registration process in a way that enables the conveyancing market to benefit as a whole.

He doesn’t want HMLR to appear as a “drag anchor” on the introduction of digital processes within the conveyancing process, but in fact have a “positive catalytic effect on the market and support positive development enabling conveyancing to become faster, better informed, more efficient and secure.”

He added:

“As we move to a digital way for conveyancing, we don’t want to bring new risks to the process, so security is important to us. The Digital ID Standard is a good foundation to begin building this new conveyancing world on.”

Speaking to Tom Lyes, Director of Engagement at Today’s Conveyancer, Mike revealed that the industry reaction to the new Standard had been a positive one.

He explained:

“Conveyancers are very interested in it, and there has been positive press issued around the scheme showing the steps forward when it comes to onboarding new clients. But at the moment our focus is on the suppliers of this type of technology, to help build conveyancing specific services that meet the Standard..

“Naturally, in conveyancing mitigating risks is always at the forefront of people’s minds and incorporating technology can worry some people. Here at HMLR our door is always open to discuss the standard with suppliers and help them to reassure firms and their conveyancing departments that if they use the supplier’s technology, they are indeed compliant, and all of the risks have been thought of and accounted for.

“But this is just stage one for us, our next step is to help the suppliers of this technology tailor their service, so it incorporates the language conveyancers and their teams use on a daily basis.”

When they launched the Standard, HMLR made it clear that they wouldn’t seek recourse against conveyancers who complied with the requirements in the event that their client was not who they claimed to be. This was a step HMLR wanted to take to demonstrate to conveyancers and their teams that they had confidence in the technology and its robustness in comparison to other traditional ways of checking a client’s ID.

Mike added:

“This is where HMLR can be the positive catalyst for change. We can dedicate time to look at technology and ensure that it is fit for purpose. Due to work commitments firms wouldn’t be able to dedicate perhaps as much time to this task, and if we can take some of this way from them and help bring about the positive changes to help the industry. The promise of no recourse helps us as an organisation to transmit trust and reassurance between ourselves and conveyancers and help to show them the positive technological steps that can be taken whilst mitigating any risks that could arise as a result.

“The Safe Harbour scheme, I hope will continue to gather momentum which will continue to grow trust and reassurance in the sector.

“I am very confident that when conveyancers see a demonstration of the technology and it’s explained how it’ll work for them, they can be assured that it has all of the necessary security requirements and closes the loop between the ID issuing authority (eg. The Passport Office) and the check they make.”

Naturally, any change to the conveyancing process will need to have had input from the regulators. Mike explains:

“The regulators have been supportive throughout. We’ve been developing these ideas in collaboration with them, in addition to the tech suppliers and everyday practitioners.

“The ideas we develop to some extent, have a Land Registry angle on them, but our goal is to help the whole process, and having the regulators on board is key to this.”

At the same time the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) is working  to produce a Digital Trust ID Framework. Mike explained how HMLR’s Standard fits in with this framework.

He said:

“We’ve been working closely with DCMS, as the regulatory framework they are looking to implement will to help reassure and grow the trust around the digital ID technology in the sector.

“Moving forward, once this framework is implemented it could enable the digital ID to be used by more than one stakeholder in the process. This is great news for clients as it potentially means they’d only have to prove their identity once as opposed to multiple times to mortgage lenders, solicitors and estate agents.

“But a little further down the road, we hope to see digital ID dovetailing with the electronic signature process. We are already working to introduce qualified electronic signatures which include a digital ID check within the process so the client will no longer need to have a witness present to confirm their identity. If the ID check at the beginning of the conveyance also meets the electronic signature requirement, then all the better.”

The use of technology in the conveyancing sector seems to be gathering pace, and the coming months appear to be an exciting time ahead as processes are refined, trust and reassurance grow, and more changes begin to be implemented to improve the efficiency of the home buying and selling process.

We’re also introducing two new features to our business e-services portal at the end of this month that we hope will improve the application process: the Digital Registration Service (DRS) and an estimated completion date feature.

DRS has already been tested by around 1800 individual customers from around 500 organisations and at the end of April all customers will be able to access it. 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.

Today's Conveyancer