HM Land Registry has taken a tentative step towards accepting electronic signatures on deeds and relaxed some identity verification rules in the latest official response to the Covid-19 crisis. The Law Society welcomed the announcement, saying the changes will ease pressures on the market.  

In a notice on changes to identity verification and signing deeds published today the registry announced that, from Monday, it will accept deeds signed using the  ‘Mercury signing approach’. This involves capturing a signature page with a scanner or camera and emailing the image to the conveyancer. Signatures must still be signed in pen and witnessed in person. 

HM Land Registry said the change would be temporary and regularly reviewed.  

Also from Monday, HMLR will not reject an application where evidence of identity is missing; instead, it will send a requisition for this. It will also accept ID1 and ID2 forms that are up to six months old, rather than the current limit of three months. 

Identity verification will be allowed by video call with a new form, ID5. 

Meanwhile, several new categories of non-conveyancer professionals will be allowed to verify identity. 

Simon Davis, Law Society president, said the ’pragmatic and proportionate’ changes help to improve processes for transactions in a difficult environment.  ’Even though they are temporary - and HM Land Registry have made it clear that these changes may be modified or withdrawn at short notice at any moment – the measures are nevertheless welcome and should assist those carrying out transactions from large commercial real estate to home moves.

’There still are significant complications with continuing transactions - caused by banking issues, issues arising from compliance with social distancing guidelines, or the unavailability of removal or other services.

’We have worked with HM Land Registry and others to secure these changes to help the profession find workable alternatives so that transactions can continue – provided it is safe to do so.’

Update 4 May: HM Land Registry has published updated guidance on the changes.