Paperless mortgage deeds could become a reality this year, HM Land Registry has revealed. In its 2016/17 annual report, published today, the registry says the ’digital mortgage service’ which has been in private testing since last June will be opened up to a public ‘beta test’ in 2017. The system allows borrowers to sign deeds electronically with the government’s ’Verify’ online authentication process. 

Digital mortgages are among a new breed of services offered in a ‘digital transformation’, the report claims. It is the first report to be published since the government ended years of speculation over the registry’s future last November by announcing that it would remain in the public sector. Introducing the report, Michael Mire, chair, says a fully digitised service will make the registry’s role in developing, buying and selling land and property, and collateralising mortgages and loans ’almost totally frictionless’. 

The register ’will become increasingly digital, 3D, comprehensive and significantly richer in data’, the report states. This will aid data sharing across government ’for the purposes of supporting development, financial stability, tax collection, law enforcement and the protection of national security’, Graham Farrant, chief executive and chief land registrar, writes. He notes that the shelving of privatisation ’was not an endorsement of the status quo. Rather, it gave us fresh impetus to modernise and develop our digital and data services and location intelligence to support the property market and the economy.’

Among the achievements claimed for the past year are:

  • Improvements to the application enquiry service which enables solicitors and conveyancers to see the progress on specific cases online.
  • ‘Good feedback’ from borrowers piloting digital mortgages. ’The service is still
 in private beta but we intend to
 open it up to more users in 2017,’ John Abbott, director of digital, data and technology, writes: ‘The first truly digital
 mortgage can be created,
 signed and registered without
 the need for any paperwork 
or emailing and without the need for our colleagues to be involved in the process.’
  • A ’Digital Street’ pilot will explore the use of new technologies such as blockchain distributed ledgers and artificial intelligence.

On the controversial plan to centralise local land charges, the registry states that ’we continue to plan for major investment’. Moving the register from 326 English local authorities to a central database will ’drive at least £88m of benefit to the national economy by 2026/27’, it claims, cutting turnaround times from an average of eight days to instant online access. The registry plans to have the service running for 50% of local authorities by the end of 2020. 

The report makes no mention of the Conservative Party manifesto proposal to combine Land Registry’s database with those of Ordnance Survey and the Valuation Office Agency to create a cadastral data system, suggesting that the government has shelved the idea.

National property law conference: overcoming challenges in a volatile landscape (11 October 2017, London)

The closing panel session of the National property law conference will focus on the technical aspects of cyber crime and the challenges facing conveyancers for the next 12 months. Issues that will be covered include registered title fraud, GDPR and its impact, new developments such as digital mortgages and e-signatures and the future of cyber security including blockchain and land registers.

Click here to find out more or to register for the conference.