The Land Registry has just announced that it will abandon plans for the introduction of electronic land transfers. Introducing his annual report on the work of the Registry published yesterday, 30 June 2011, Malcolm Dawson, Chief Land Registrar and Chief Executive said:
“Over a six year period we have invested £41 million to successfully deliver a suite of e-services including portal, e-security and business gateway. However, following the feedback it is clearly better to halt development of e-transfers now, before significant further sums are expended, than to continue to develop a product we are not confident our customers will use. ”
The Land Registry has been trying to develop an electronic land conveyancing system for many years, and the Land Registration Act of 2002 included provisions which were supposed to herald the introduction of ‘e-conveyancing’ with instant land transfers. However, there has been continuing concern among users that any such system will be open to abuse, and that the Registry could not guarantee a secure system that would be proof against hackers.
It is disappointing to some that the Registry has now abandoned further development of e-conveyancing. The Registry has already successfully introduced arrangements so that Conveyancing Solicitors can lodge a wide variety of documents electronically, and many mortgage lenders now discharge mortgages electronically.
Of course, all computer users are worried about security, and with the recent high-profile hacking cases, landowners are rightly concerned about the security of the Land Registry’s system. The proposed e-conveyancing would have used of electronic signatures, but it would seem that whatever system the experts devise to make this secure, someone will come up with a way of getting round it. No-one will want to find that their house has been transferred to a fraudster without their knowledge, so unless a totally hacker-proof system can be devised it seems that e-conveyancing will remain a dream.
In fact, it is not really clear whether such a system would lead to any quicker conveyancing. The registration of transfers at the Land Registry comes at the end of the conveyancing process, and for house-buyers it is something that is done by their Conveyancing Solicitors after completion has taken place and they have moved in. The Registry rarely takes more than a few days to complete registration of transfers once they have been lodged by Conveyancing Solicitors.
A system of electronic signatures could make life easier for those people who insist upon being in some remote foreign country when their sale or purchase is being completed, but most people are able to sign and return the necessary legal documents to their Conveyancing Solicitors in time for completion without difficulty.
The Land Registry already provides Conveyancing Solicitors with facilities to obtain documents and carry out many procedures online, which has lead to considerable improvements in conveyancing, and speeded up the process during the period before completion. So it does look sensible for the Registry to save money on further development of something that is not wanted, and instead to improve its existing services and develop new ways of delivering services that are acceptable to users.