Digitising the Land Registry

Gerry McFall and Chris Harris from Lawyer Checker report on a seminar where the Land Registry outlined to conveyancers its future plans including the digitisation of mortgage deeds

In March, we gathered together a group of some of the more technology focused conveyancers to sit down with Graham Farrant, chief executive of HM Land Registry, to discuss its plans for the coming year and the impact on lenders and conveyancers.

Business strategy
Last year, HM Land Registry (HMLR) released its Business Strategy 2017 to 2022. This set out the direction of travel for the next five years following the announcement by the Government for HMLR ‘to become the world’s leading Land Registry for speed, simplicity and an open approach to data’. By 2022, HMLR aims to digitise 95% of daily transactions in order to simplify, speed up and improve the efficiency of registration.

Overall, HMLR’s ambition is for all land and property in England and Wales to be registered. They told us that “the most important aspect of adopting new technology is being sure it benefits users and makes the conveyancing process simpler, faster and cheaper, whilst enhancing the integrity and security of our register against threats from cyber-attacks and digital fraud.”

Scope
HMLR handles over 120,000 service requests every day. Around 100,000 are requests for information including official copies and searches of the register, with completion targets of three days.

Of the remaining 20,000 requests, 18,000 are applications to update the register with a five-day turnaround, and the remaining 2,000 are to create new titles within the register. HMLR tell us that “these applications are labour intensive, and we currently don’t meet our service standard of completion within 25 days. This is primarily due to a historic lack of investment in HM Land Registry following the crash in the property market and during the uncertainty of potential privatisation. We have recently recruited nearly 400 new caseworkers and plan to recruit a further 120 in the late spring.

“We are also introducing a number of changes to our working practices to improve productivity. We are already seeing the benefits of our investment and so far in this quarter (mid-March) we have reduced our backlog by over 25,000 applications. We expect to be operating within service standard for register creation applications by the early autumn.”

Digital mortgage process
2018 sees the introduction of a digital remortgage process. ‘Sign Your Mortgage Deed’ will replace the paper mortgage deed, digitising the process for the homeowners and eliminating the need for a witness.

One of the biggest obstacles, and cause of frustration of borrowers, is the provision of ID. HMLR will use GOV.UK Verify to verify identity. To date, 1.9 million people have used GOV.Verify to perform over five million secure transactions.

Publishing data on error rates for registration
Plans are also underway to publish data on the top 500 conveyancing firms, with HMLR planning to publish the percentage of applications each of the top 500 sent to them which need further work. This is, however, still in consultation stage, so exactly how the data will be presented is not fully known.

Just over half of all application enquiries (requisitions) are raised on the same five overall points:

  • 20% relate to restrictions
  • 13% to discharges of charges
  • 11% to variations in names between deeds and the register
  • 6% to issues with the execution of documents
  • 3% to the verification of identity.

HMLR expect to start publishing data this year. There are no current plans to extend this out to the other 3,900 law firms who carry out conveyancing.

Other plans for 2018/19
HMLR has committed to the following:-

  • The publication of a list of all publicly owned land which is not yet registered.
  • Beta stage of its Find Property Information Service
  • Migration of 26 local authorities Local Land Charge records to a centralised digital register, benefitting 125,000 homebuyers within the first year.

Could HMLR take over the conveyancing process?
When posed with this question, HMLR answered: “Our primary role is to register interests in land and property and, through the indemnity, provide absolute assurance about property ownership in England and Wales.

“It is not HM Land Registry’s intention to re-build, or play a significantly greater role in, the conveyancing system. But as we look to digitise and automate our systems, we expect that new opportunities to streamline the way that property transactions are undertaken will become apparent.”

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