Land Registry response to COVID-19: identity verification and signing deeds

05 May 2020

The Land Registry has announced that as a temporary measure they are making it easier to verify a person’s identity and to sign deeds. The new guidance comes as a response to customer feedback and will no doubt be a welcome change.

Identity Verification

In addition to conveyancers and chartered legal executives, verification can now be undertaken by people who work, or have worked, in a number of other professions, including:
  • Retired conveyancers, chartered legal executives, solicitors and barristers
  • Bank officials and regulated financial advisers
  • Medical doctors, dentists and veterinary surgeons
  • Chartered and certified accountants
  • Police officers and officers in the UK armed forces
  • Teachers and college and university teaching staff
  • Members of Parliament and Welsh Assembly member
  • UK civil servants of senior executive officer (SEO) grade or above
  • Magistrates
The verification can also be done by way of a video call provided a screenshot photograph of the person whose identity is being verified is taken and the appropriate forms completed. HM Land Registry has not prescribed that any particular video call service is used but just advises that care is taken to use one that is secure.

Full details of the guidance can be found in Practice Guide 67A.

Signing deeds

HM Land Registry have also announced that, effective from Monday 4 May 2020 and until further notice, they will accept deeds that have been signed using “option 1” of the ‘Mercury signing approach’.

This means that, for land registration purposes, a signature page will need to be signed in wet-ink and in the physical presence of a witness (i.e. not by a video call). Each party should then email their signature to their conveyancer attaching both the final agreed form document and a copy of the signed signature page (PDF or JPEG).

Practice guide 8: execution of deeds has been updated with further information and the full step-by-step method has been detailed at paragraph 12.

This follows the Law Society guidance in their practice note “Execution of documents by virtual means” that “the PDF (or Word) final version of the document and the PDF of the signed signature page (both attached to the same email) will constitute an original signed document and will equate to the ‘same physical document’…”  

There is however, no change to the guidance on witnessing of deeds which currently states:
“The relevant legislation does not prevent a signatory’s spouse, civil partner or cohabitee from acting as a witness (if they are not a party to a deed), but this is best avoided. It is also advisable that the witness be no younger than 18 or, at least, of sufficient maturity for their evidence to be relied on should it later prove necessary to verify the circumstances under which the execution took place.”
HM Land Registry are continuing to review their policies and practice guides. Details of all amendments and updates can be seen here.

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