What is E-Conveyancing?
E-conveyancing was explained in a joint Law Commission/Land Registry report which was published in 2001. It envisages a modern system for Land Registration where each stage of the process can be completed electronically rather than being paper-based.
Users of the e-conveyancing system will be able to correspond and transact with each other securely and will be able to share information electronically. Deeds and documents will be signed with electronic signatures.
It is intended that the e-conveyancing process will significantly speed up the registration process thereby protecting a property owner’s interest at an early stage.
Current available online services
Some services that are already available online form part of the E-Conveyancing process, e.g. obtaining official copies of title directly from the Land Registry website and downloading application forms. Some mortgage lenders are also able to discharge mortgages electronically which saves a great deal of time and means conveyancers and solicitors who deal with those lenders are no longer required to send the lender a DS1 or an END1 form.
It is intended that at some point in the future the system will be linked up with HM Revenue and Customs for payment of stamp duty land tax and also for redemption of mortgages.
Any problems envisaged with E-Conveyancing?
All documents are to be signed electronically and all documents will be checked to ensure the signatures have not been altered in any way. The system is intended to combat fraud. A document can be signed electronically by the client or their conveyancer. It is a costly procedure and there must be adequate support and systems in place in order to facilitate electronic signatures. If the conveyancer is signing on behalf of the client this will increase risk and liability for the conveyancer and authorisation for a conveyancer to proceed on this basis will have to be properly documented. This will inevitably lead to additional work on the part of the conveyancer thereby leading to increased conveyancing costs.
The overall costs of implementing all the systems and support that are needed to make E-Conveyancing a reality in firms will be substantial and smaller firms will inevitably struggle.
Land Registry aims to make chain transactions more efficient. Users of E-Conveyancing will be able to view the progress of chain transactions online and it is hoped that chain transactions will be speeded up by this ‘transparency’. It is unclear at present as to whether this will work in practice since, as all conveyancers will know, chain transactions can be rather complicated due to a number of factors thereby resulting in delays. A pilot scheme introducing the ‘Chain Matrix’ was said to have failed to produce the results the Land Registry was expecting so it will be interesting to see how this particular service will work once formally introduced.
How will it impact on conveyancers?
Many solicitors and conveyancers have overhauled their internal systems over the last few years to ‘move with the times’. Emails are being used over written correspondence, forms are being completed and downloaded from the Land Registry website and documents and incoming correspondence are being scanned and stored on computers.
For many firms therefore it will not be difficult to adjust to E-Conveyancing, however, for the smaller high street firms who have not been able to modernise their systems due to costs restraints; this may signify the end for them. It is a very ambitious and costly project for all involved but E-Conveyancing is inevitable as part of the conveyancing process.