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Temporary Changes by the Land Registry or is this the future? – Part Two

Coronavirus / 07 May 2020

You may recall our article last week about the temporary changes introduced by the Land Registry.  They were introduced to deal with the challenges everyone faces when having to deal with the verification of identity and the execution of documents and getting original wet-ink signature documents out to the various parties involved as a result of Covid-19 and the social distancing and self-isolating measures imposed.

Since the lockdown, parties to property transactions have often flung their hands in frustration when dealing with executing documents and having regard to the Land Registry’s requirements and formalities for dealing with deeds disposing of real property and real property contracts.

Those changes have taken effect this week on 4 May and the Land Registry has produced Practice Guide 67a which sets out their requirements in connection with evidence of identity because of Covid-19. The Land Registry’s Practice Guide 8 in relation to the execution of deeds has also now been updated and effective on 4th May. The Land Registry is clear in flagging that the changes are temporary and may be modified or withdrawn at short notice.


Verification of ID for Land Registry purposes

Apart from solicitors, barristers, conveyancers and legal executives, the following professionals can now (during this temporary change) verify a person’s identity for the purposes of dealing with the Land Registry’s identification verification requirements:

  • A retired conveyancer, solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive – see Note below
  • Medical doctor
  • Dentist
  • A chartered or certified accountant
  • Police officer
  • Magistrate
  • Veterinary surgeon
  • Bank official or regulated financial adviser
  • Member of Parliament or Welsh Assembly member
  • Teacher
  • College and university teaching staff
  • UK civil servant of senior executive officer (SEO) grade or above
  • An officer in the UK armed forces

The Land Registry says that this list will be kept under review and it may add or remove certain professions as it deems appropriate.

As before, the person verifying the identity and the person whose identity is being verified must not be related to each other in any way. Significantly, identity can now also be verified by video call.

*Note that as set out in Practice Guide 67A except in cases where the verification is being done by a conveyancer, all of the following conditions must be satisfied.

  • The person whose identity is to be verified and the verifier must both hold a current valid UK full passport.
  • They must have known each other for at least one year.
  • They must both provide a copy of the personal details page of their passport.
  • A screenshot photograph taken during the video call showing the faces of both people must be provided.

Where verification is by one of the authorised professions, a screenshot photograph must be captured of the video call while it is taking place that shows both the person whose identity is being verified and the verifier.

The photograph can be taken by either person. It must be in colour and show the faces of both people looking straight at the camera and each face must be sufficiently clear to enable a comparison with the photograph on the copy of the personal details page of the passports.

For further details please refer to the Land Registry’s Practice Guide 67A found here.


Execution of Deeds

Until now, parties dealing with real property transactions were expected to hold an entire whole pdf of the final version of the contract or deed including the signature page. From 4th May 2020 HM Land Registry will accept for the purposes of registration of a transfer or other deeds that have been signed using the ‘Mercury signing approach’ in accordance with the following steps:

  • STEP 1 – Final agreed copies of the transfer are emailed to each party by their conveyancer.
  • STEP 2 – Each party prints the signature page only.
  • STEP 3 – Each party signs the signature page in the physical presence of a witness.
  • STEP 4 – The witness signs the signature page.
  • STEP 5 – Each party sends a single email to their conveyancer to which are attached the final agreed copy of the transfer (see STEP 1) and a PDF/JPEG or other suitable copy of the signed signature page.
  • STEP 6 – The conveyancing transaction is completed.
  • STEP 7 – The conveyancer applies to register the disposition and includes with the application the final agreed copy of the transfer and the signed signature page or pages in the form of a single document.
  • STEP 8 – The application is processed by HM Land Registry following standard operating procedures.

The conveyancers involved must agree to this approach being used before the process starts.

Do note that the requirements for the execution of deeds to be carried out in the presence of a witness still stand. See our further commentary below.

The Land Registry’s Practice Guide 8 sets out that the combining of the transferor deed and signature pages in STEP 7 may be done either by their being (i) electronically combined or (ii) printed out and then physically combined. The conveyancer must certify the resulting transfer is a true copy of the original in the usual way. If there has been electronic combination, the combined transfer or deed and signature pages can be directly uploaded as a single document; if there has been physical combination, the combined transfer and signature pages can be scanned as a single document.


Witness to the execution of a deed

A party to the deed cannot witness the signature of another party to the deed and it is not advisable for a signatory’s spouse, civil partner or cohabitee to act as a witness (if they are not a party to a deed). The witness must also be over the age of 18.

When a deed has to be executed “in the presence of a witness” it requires the physical presence of that witness, and a witness’s “virtual” or “remote” presence is deemed to be insufficient and the Land Registry continues to require that the witness be actually present when the deed is signed, the witness then adding their signature. However, according to the Land Registry’s Practice Guide 8 “there is no reason why the witness and signatory cannot be separated by glass, so a signature could be witnessed by someone looking through a car or house window – if, of course, they were then able to see clearly the signatory signing.”


For further details please refer to the Land Registry’s Practice Guide 8.

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