The government has unveiled draft rules governing the future use of digital identities to help ‘revolutionise’ the conveyancing process.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said digital identity products allow people to prove who they are, where they live or how old they are. ‘They are set to revolutionise transactions such as buying a house, when people are often required to prove their identity multiple times to a bank, conveyancer or estate agent, and buying age-restricted goods online or in person,’ the department said.

The ‘trust framework’ comprises specific standards and frameworks for organisations that provide or use digital identity services. Organisations will be required to publish a yearly report explaining which demographics have been, or are likely to have been, excluded from their service and why.

An anonymous man wearing a suit holds a tablet projecting a digital house

Homebuyers could create a single digital identity

Source: iStock

Digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman said: ‘I want the trust framework to help facilitate a clear understanding between people using identity products, the organisations relying on the service and the service providers, letting each party know data is being used appropriately and kept safe.

‘Successfully combating fraud and cyber crime can only be achieved by government working with the private sector. This framework, which will need to be underpinned by further new robust legislative and regulatory mechanisms before it can be finalised, can help to strengthen how we work together to restrict opportunities for criminals and protect people.’

The department gives an example of how the framework can speed up the conveyancing process: ‘Peggy is buying her first home. She creates a digital identity when she checks her credit score online with a credit scoring agency. The credit scoring agency is a member of a scheme in the trust framework. Peggy decides to apply for a mortgage from a bank. The bank is also a member of a scheme in the trust framework. This means she can use her digital identity again to apply for the mortgage.

'Peggy will need to prove who she is several times throughout the process of buying a house, for example when she interacts with the bank, estate agents and solicitors. If any of these interactions happen in real life, Peggy can show her digital identity on an app on her phone.’

Sole practitioner Sarah Dwight, who sits on the Law Society's conveyancing and land law committee, said: 'Conveyancing practitioners are the gatekeepers of the house moving process and such progress is to be welcomed.'

Beth Rudolf, director of delivery at the Conveyancing Association, said: 'We know there are over 31 providers of ID verification technologies so setting a clear standard, which is also acceptable to HM Land Registry, will be key. We are reviewing the trust framework with a view to making any necessary recommendations.'

Financial Conduct Authority-regulated Thirdfort was set up to reduce the toll of conveyancing fraud on law firms. Sam Ruback, head of legal, said: 'There’s been a rapid increase in the use of digital ID tools, accelerated by the social restrictions first introduced in 2020, yet it's been difficult for consumers, businesses and lawyers to determine whether the tools they are utilising are sufficient to protect them from fraud and cybercrime, whilst safeguarding privacy. This is a clear step in the right direction.'

DCMS has published an ‘alpha version’ of the framework and is seeking feedback. The survey closes at midday on 11 March.