Land Registry aims for first digital property transfer

Land Registry: Next phase of Digital Street

The Land Registry has set itself the target of completing the first fully digital transfer of a property in the coming year to prove the value of smart contracts.

It said this was one of the priorities for the second year of ‘Digital Street’, the registry’s research and development project which is exploring how new technologies can help it to develop “a simpler, faster and cheaper land registration process”.

In a blog published yesterday, Lauren Tombs, senior product manager for Digital Street, explained: “Our plans for this year are ambitious, building on our research from last year and continuing to collaborate with the industry.”

She said there would be a particular focus on understanding:

  • how smart contracts can enable interactions with the land register “and we want to prove this by completing the first fully digital transfer of a property”;
  • the benefits, and possible applications, of blockchain/distributed ledger technology for land registration and conveyancing; and
  • how identity can be checked once and shared securely across the buying and selling process.

Ms Tombs said understanding the technology was the team’s first priority, particularly smart contracts – digital contracts that automatically complete once everyone involved has filled out their section – and distributed ledgers.

A blog last week by John Abbott, the Land Registry’s director of digital, data and technology, explained that blockchain and distributed ledgers – secure, online databases allowing everyone involved in a transaction to clearly see the track the status of the sale – “have the potential to open up property transactions and allow those involved to stay up-to-date and those who need to act can be sent notifications with sufficient guidance”.

At the start of this month, the Land Registry announced that it was partnering with software company Methods, who will utilise R3’s blockchain platform, Corda, for the second phase of Digital Street.

In April, the first digital mortgage deed was entered into the land register, using the GOV.UK Verify system. Mr Abbott said the Digital Street project would also be looking for ways to further improve the way the registry processes digital signatures.

Ms Tombs said they had also set up the ‘Digital Street community’, made up of industry experts including conveyancers, lenders, mortgage brokers and property technology companies. It has around 70 members and continues to grow.

In a separate development, secure payments provider Shieldpay has been awarded a grant by Innovate UK.

Innovate UK is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

The funding will be used to scale up Shieldpay’s third-party managed account solution, which in May saw it complete the UK’s first fully digital mortgate settlement with Barclays and MyHomeMove, and the support of the latter’s regulator, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers.

Shieldpay provided a digital escrow facility to take charge of the purchase money, pay the seller, and – in time – pay both the stamp duty and Land Registry fees for the property.

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