HM Land Registry (HMLR) is to pilot the use of qualified electronic signatures (QESs) that do not need to be witnessed, which it said could be a “gamechanger” for conveyancing.
The move comes just over a year after it for the first time allowed deeds signed electronically to be registered.
Writing on the HMLR website, product manager Michael Abraham outlined the benefits of electronic signatures in offering “greater assurance and security than a wet signature on a paper deed”, as well as cost efficiencies and environmental benefits.
They can also be machine read and their security features validated digitally. “When combined with a digitally produced deed, and digitally validated identity check where necessary, they could really streamline the application and registration process.”
However, like other signatures, they still require a witness and Mr Abraham said this limited their potential.
But the QES, a more advanced type of electronic signature, could be “the real gamechanger”, he said.
“Section 91 of the Land Registration Act 2002 allows for a sophisticated electronic signature of this nature to be used in a document that operates as if it were a deed but, not being an actual deed, the document can be signed without the need for a witness.
“When you sign a document using a QES, your identity is verified by a ‘qualified trust service provider’, which could be seen as replacing the assurance that is usually provided by the witness.”
In doing so, the qualified trust service provider must meet a strict set of standards outlined in legislation known as eIDAS.
Last month, GlobalSign was approved by the Information Commissioner’s Office as the UK’s first qualified trust service provider.
Mr Abraham said HMLR has made “excellent progress” in understanding what criteria might need to be met for it to accept QESs.
“Crucially, we want providers to make the identity verification process as easy as possible, and to offer products that meet the needs of conveyancers and their clients, whether a single signature is being used for a one-off transfer, or they are dealing with a multi-use signature for a commercial user signing multiple documents a day…
“As qualified electronic signatures are a relatively new technology, we want to ensure those in the property market can use it.
“We need to ensure that our standard supports interoperability between providers, so everyone can trust the security and usability of their signature, regardless of which platform they wish to use for signing.”
He said HMLR was now looking to test the use of QESs with “a small number of firms” as it works towards publishing a draft practice guide.