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E-Conveyancing ­ Where are we now?

Anyone who has bought or sold a residential property has probably wondered why the conveyancing process takes so long. Surely, in this digital age something could be done to 'speed up the searches' and generally make the whole experience easier and less stressful?

Plans to transform the paper-based conveyancing process in England and Wales were first mooted in 1998. Land Registry was subsequently given the task of developing a system whereby all those involved could deal with each other electronically and, to this end, the Land Registration Act 2002 established laws to enable this.

The aim was to set up a central e-conveyancing service allowing linked participants to use electronic documents, requisitions and signatures and co-ordinating the key milestones of exchange, completion and updating the title register. The problem of delays in payments was to be solved by setting up an Agent Bank into which each party to the transaction would deposit the necessary funds for simultaneous release. There was to be a Chain Matrix ­ a web-based notice board showing the status of buyers and sellers in dependent 'chains'.

More than 10 years later and after several consultation exercises, where are we now?

The conveyancing system in England and Wales is the most complex in Europe, so to make electronic conveyancing secure was never going to be easy.

Some services which will eventually form part of the comprehensive e-conveyancing system are now available. For example, professional users can gain instant access to information on more than 20 million registers of title covering the majority of properties in England and Wales. Some simple applications can now be made online for the same fee as a paper application. For a fee, members of the public can also download copies of entries or a title plan for a particular property. Electronic Discharges enable very high volume lenders to remove legal charges from the land register. Following redemption of a legal charge affecting registered land, a lender's computer updates the Land Register automatically.

The idea of an Agent Bank has been scrapped, however, and Land Registry's development of a Chain Matrix prototype