HMLR changes to property transactions during coronavirus (COVID-19)

HM Land Registry (HMLR) is temporarily accepting the ‘Mercury’ signing approach for deeds in relation to conveyancing. The aim is to reduce problems with post, paper and scanning as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Our practice note on virtual signings sets out how ‘Mercury’ style signings operate. HMLR has updated Practice Guide 8: Execution of deeds with further information.

HMLR has also introduced some temporary changes to their requirements to make it easier to verify identity for land transactions. Full details on these changes, including the conditions that must be satisfied, are available in the new Practice Guide 67A.

These are all temporary measures to address the highly unusual current situation.

Read HMLR's announcement

The ‘Mercury’ signing approach – electronic signatures

HMLR has made some temporary changes to make it easier for customers to verify a person’s identity for land.

Full details on these changes, including the conditions that must be satisfied, will be available from 4 May in the new Practice Guide 67A.

HMLR will accept deeds that have been signed using the ‘Mercury’ signing method.

The aim is to reduce problems with post, paper and scanning.

You’ll be able to email the transfer and other deeds to your client, who then only needs to print, sign and witness the signature page and take a photo of that or scan it before returning it to you by email for completion.

Read HMLR’s announcement in full

Our practice note on virtual signings sets out how the ‘Mercury’ style signings operate.

We’ll be providing further information about this shortly.

Evidence of identity

Members of the public are temporarily unable to visit HMLR to have their identity verified by HMLR’s staff.

While HMLR has said that it’s still possible to have identity verified by a solicitor, barrister, or notary, they’re aware that there are concerns as to how to provide such a service within the current public health guidelines.

They’ve made the following temporary changes and say that they’re aiming to strike a balance between:

enabling you to provide acceptable evidence or confirmation of identity within the public health guidelines, and

providing adequate protection against registered title fraud

The changes, effective from Monday 4 May, are:

  • HMLR will not reject an application where evidence of identity is missing; instead, they’ll send a requisition for this (this has previously been mentioned in updates)
  • HMLR will accept forms ID1 or ID2 that are up to six months old, rather than the usual requirement that they be no more than three months old
  • HMLR will allow a limited number of non-conveyancer professionals, including people who worked in these professions before retiring, to verify identity (see below)
  • You and the authorised professionals listed will be able to verify identity by a video call, for example by Skype, FaceTime or a similar product
  • Three new identity forms (see below) are being introduced and will be available on GOV.UK (the only new form that affects conveyancers is the new form ID5)
  • Where you verify identity for the purpose of completing a form ID1 or ID2, you must complete new form ID5. You must also take and retain a screenshot photograph of the person whose identity they’re verifying during the video call. The form ID5 (but not the screenshot photograph) must accompany the form ID1 or ID2 when lodged with the application submitted for registration
  • Practice Guide 67A: Temporary changes to HM Land Registry’s evidence of identity requirements will be made available on GOV.UK explaining the changes and requirements. HMLR are also making changes to Practice Guide 67 to reflect some of the changes; this guide will have to be read in conjunction with the new Practice Guide 67A
  • The Registrar’s Direction made pursuant to section 100(4) of the Land Registration Act 2002 which prescribe the identity requirements has been suitably revised
  • No changes are being made to the evidence of identity requirements where an application is being made to change a registered owner’s address for service in the register using form COG1, or to change a name in the register following a change of gender using form CNG. HMLR say these forms and services are generally used by members of the public rather than conveyancers and that they’ll keep this under review
  • They say to help prioritising their work, they will not be accepting new requests for an identity facility letter until further notice

The non-conveyancer professionals who will be allowed to verify identity will be restricted to:

  • retired conveyancers, solicitors and barristers
  • bank officials and regulated financial advisers
  • medical doctors
  • dentists
  • chartered and certified accountants
  • police officers
  • magistrates
  • veterinary surgeons
  • members of Parliament
  • Welsh Assembly members
  • teachers
  • college and university teaching staff
  • UK civil servants of SEO grade or above
  • officers in the UK armed forces

HMLR say that new forms are being introduced and must be completed where the identity has been verified by someone in one of the authorised professions:

  • Form ID3 – where the person whose identity has been verified is a private individual
  • Form ID4 – where the person whose identity has been verified is a corporate body

You’ll need to complete a new form ID5 when verifying identity by way of a video call for the purpose of completing a form ID1 or ID2.

Except where the verification is being carried out 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 full UK passport
  • they must have known each other for at least one year and must not be related in any way
  • they must both provide a copy of the biometric page of their passport
  • they must provide a screenshot photograph of both of them taken during the video call

In accordance with HMLR’s Personal Information Charter, identity forms and any identity evidence provided will be kept indefinitely as evidence of identity checks when dealing with an application for registration.

Identity evidence is not publicly available under registration legislation, but this information may be shared with law enforcement agencies and used to check identity with a third party.