COVID-19 has forced law firms to re-evaluate their processes as most conveyancing transactions are now conducted remotely, including digital client onboarding and AML checks.

With many lawyers working from home and legal practices functioning remotely – one of the more regular questions HM Land Registry has received from customers has been whether they would treat electronic signatures as equivalent to a ‘wet-ink’ signature. The HM Land Registry guidelines do indeed affirm this treatment.

At Verify 365, we’re big advocates for the power of technology. We know that law firms want to work quicker, smarter, and more effectively, so it’s no surprise that many have already embraced electronic witnessing and electronic signatures.

The good news is that HM Land Registry are now accepting Electronic Signatures. The recently issued guidelines confirm that the HMLR will now accept registration of a transfer deed or other form of dispositionary deed that is electronically signed. This is fantastic news in that it provides greater flexibility and an improved signing experience for many people and law firms in the UK when working with HMLR.

HM Land Registry guidance on electronic signatures

What does the HMLR guidance say? The guidance issued by HMLR states that:

“Until further notice, we will accept for registration transfers and certain other deeds (see Deeds that can be signed electronically) that have been electronically signed provided that the requirements set out in our requirements are satisfied.”

The deed may be signed by an individual or individuals on their own behalf or on behalf of another person, including a company.

Where the deed is being signed on behalf of a company by two “authorised signatories” under section 44(2)(a) of the Companies Act 2006, no witness will be involved, and the requirements are to be read accordingly.

To make clear to a witness what is expected of them, conveyancers drafting a deed that might be electronically signed may wish to add a statement to the following effect next to or beneath where the witness is to sign:

“I confirm that I was physically present when [name of signatory] signed this deed.”

The parties’ conveyancers are advised to retain with their conveyancing file a copy of the completion certificate or audit report produced by the electronic signature platform (platform) at the end of the signing process. Such a certificate or report should give an audit trail of the signing, including the time and date of the signatures, email addresses the document was sent to, the one-time password (OTP) method used, the fields that were completed and the IP addresses of the devices that were used.

What does the HM Land Registry electronic signature guidance mean?

The guidelines will bring benefits to a variety of stakeholders ranging from conveyancers, lenders, buyers and estate agents, offering them flexibility, helping them reduce time, get a better signing experience and keep transfer deeds and other forms of dispositionary deeds fully digital.

At a time when access to posting, printing and scanning can be a challenge, moving to a digital format helps make the process of registering transfer deeds and other dispositionary deeds more efficient.

Here’s how your law firm or estate agents could benefit from eSign 365:

(1) Make faster agreements

Digital solutions enable legal firms and conveyancers to turn agreements around much faster. This can reduce completion time to a matter of hours – or even minutes. In fact, 84% of eSign 365 transactions are completed in less than one day.

Switching to digital is particularly relevant where a document needs witnessing, such as a deed execution. The extra steps and need for a witness to be physically present can create unnecessary delays, especially if individuals can’t meet face-to-face.

Digital agreements also make the whole process cheaper too. With fewer resources wasted, you’ll save up to £30 per agreement compared to paper processes. Add to this the environmental advantages of dispensing with hard copies and it’s a no-brainer.

(2) Track every step

Embracing digital workflows not only speeds up processes but has practical benefits too.

Use an electronic signature and witnessing solution such as eSign 365 that creates a digital audit trail to ensure robust tracking information. This keeps processes transparent and ensures the agreement process is available for future reference if there is a dispute down the line.

Maintaining this visibility is of critical importance when signers and witnesses are unable to sign in person.

How can eSign 365 and Verify 365 help your law firm?

eSign 365 is fully integrated with Verify 365 platform.

As a fully integrated e-signature, KYC, source of funds and AML check platform, we provide a solution that allows you to electronically sign and witness agreements and other documents. Our solution can help individuals meet the HM Land Registry electronic signature guidelines, including the ability to electronically add and authenticate signers and witnesses.

We continue to work closely with HMLR and leading law firms in the UK to better understand the intentions behind the guidelines and further refine our products to meet all the variations of the requirements, both today and in the future.

The eSignature solution from Lawtech 365 Group can help you:

(1) Get going quickly

Our eSignature solution is flexible, easily configurable and easy to use for all parties, including senders, signers and witnesses.

(2) Accelerate Agreement Completion

Digitise manual, paper-based processes to speed up the contracting process. What used to take weeks can now be completed within a few hours and even minutes and eliminate unnecessary printing of paper-heavy deeds and agreements.

(3) Witness Evidence

Every document signed through eSign 365 technology comes with a Certificate of Completion that provides proof of the signing that can be used in a dispute. For transactions with witness recipients, information about the witness, such as occupation, address, email address, IP address and time stamps, is also captured in the Certificate of Completion to provide auditability of signature and witnessing process to all transaction parties.

(4) Reduced Risk

When seeking to validate a signatory, eSign 365 provides the flexibility to choose between witnessed electronic signatures or digital signatures, including Advanced and Qualified signatures (AES and QES) that require identity authentication before a digital certificate is issued.

(5) Ensure Security

Stay confident with our unparalleled security with strong encryption practices.

What are the benefits of using electronic signatures for lawyers?

HM Land Registry compliant electronic signatures can speed up the contracting and conveyancing process, as well as eliminate unnecessary printing. What used to take weeks is reduced to hours or minutes. In addition, electronic signatures and electronic witnessing are secure processes with an audit trail.

How can I get started with electronic signatures through Verify 365?

eSign 365 is fully integrated within the Verify 365 platform so conveyancers can upload deeds to Verify 365 eSignature Dashboard and add the details of the signatory and up to two witnesses which are either specified by the conveyancer if known or nominated by the signer. It’s simple, flexible, easily configurable, and easy to use for all parties, including lawyers, clients, senders, signers and witnesses.

If your law firm needs further advice and support with electronic signatures, what solicitors should know about the guidelines and how to manage the risks, please get in touch with Verify 365 Digital Client Onboarding Platform for more information.