Safe Harbour welcomed as a step forward in the sector

The industry has embraced the new steps that HM Land Registry (HMLR) is taking to enable the use of digital ID verification in the home buying process.

Although the standard is optional at the moment, it is thought that it will soon become the ‘norm’ for the industry, as process become more streamlined and the client journey is improved, reducing the need for home buyers to prove their identity at multiple times during the transaction pipeline.

The ‘Safe Harbour’ offers conveyancers the reassurance that HMLR will not seek recourse against them, if after they’ve complied with the standard, their client isn’t who they claim to be. This makes identity verification much more convenient as it can be done at any time, without the need to meet physically, for all clients whether residential or commercial. It also provides enhanced security by requiring the use of smartphones to extract encrypted information contained within the chips of documents such as passports.

Mike Harlow, General Counsel, Deputy Chief Executive and Deputy Chief Land Registrar, commented:

“Proving your identity when buying or selling your property can be a pain. But of course, it is essential to the security of such high value transactions. This new standard for digital biometric identity checking marks an exciting milestone towards a truly digital conveyancing process.

“In a challenging year, we set up a cross-industry forum to support our conveyancing colleagues. First, we brought in electronic signatures to remove any need for paper in conveyancing. Now through this same collaboration we are able to bring a new digital identity standard and reduce the risk of fraud and make transactions a more digital, easier and faster experience.”

Industry experts have welcomed the ‘Safe Harbour’ announcement, because it paves the way for future technologies which could make the transaction pipeline more efficient. The recent announcement of the Buying and Selling Property Information (BASPI) data set, is another example of a step in the right direction.

Rob Houghton, CEO of reallymoving said:

“A new digital ID standards framework for client identity is welcome news, with remote working and social distancing making it more challenging than ever for conveyancers to undertake in-person identity checks.

“A tightening of control around fraudulent property transactions has to be a positive thing and a ‘safe harbour’ for conveyancing firms who have followed the rules in using a digital ID provider, will provide the industry with the reassurances it needs. This is an important step in the digitisation of the homebuying process, protecting conveyancers who have verified their client’s identity compliantly and benefiting customers by reducing transaction time frames.”

Martin Cheek, Managing Director of SmartSearch, said:

“This is a really positive step in term of the endorsement of electronic verification as the standard method of checking ID and documents.

“Regulated sectors such as financial services and the property market have really had to respond to the increase in fraud and money laundering attemps that we’ve seen over the past 12 months since the outbreak of the coronavirus, as criminals have taken advantage of the gaps in security.

“At SmartSearch our services will be complaint with this new standard, as paper-based documents are too easily forged these days. So, the more institutions such as HM Land Registry that push forward the digital ID agenda, the more effective the fight against fraud will be.”

Adam Forshaw, Managing Director of O’Neill Patient, comments:

“The Safe Harbour principle with HM Land Registry will ensure the continuing development of Digital ID checks to help protect conveyancers from potential fraudulent transactions. It will encourage all Digital ID providers to meet the requirements of the Safe Harbour Standard and this will give more reassurance for conveyancers when acting for buyers and sellers alike.

“We take security very seriously and our mobile app uses sophisticated facial recognition technology for identity checks while passport chips are scanned to ensure authenticity. O’Neill Patient will be looking to ensure that all our Digital ID providers meet the Safe Harbour Standard.”

Technology is slowly being adopted in the conveyancing process. However, it could be argued that due to the pandemic this adoption has occurred at a quicker pace than what the sector is used to. However, I think it’s clear to see that those in the industry are excited to embrace this change. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future will hold.

Today's Conveyancer