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Facing up to the digital identity challenge

29 May, 2020

The prevention of property fraud obviously relies on the accurate verification of the parties to the transaction. Even in the best of circumstances, conveyancers checking the identity of their clients personally can be inconvenient to both. It also relies on the skill and attention to detail of person doing the checking, which can be variable. By contrast, there are technological means of checking electronic passports and similar that can be highly consistent and accurate.

The current processes in conveyancing do not feel very 21st century and they have proved difficult to maintain in the current crisis. So what can we do about it?

Digital identity checks and the conveyancing sector

HM Land Registry (HMLR), along with us at the CLC, the Law Society and the Chartered Institute for Legal Executives (CILEx), believe that cryptographic and biometric checking of identity, using microchip-enabled passports or identity cards, might present a new, robust and convenient answer to the need to maintain social distancing while verifying an applicant’s identity.

The four organisations have been working together, alongside representatives from across the conveyancing industry, to find ways to help the property market during the coronavirus crisis.

The current crisis has highlighted the immediate need for an easy-to-use, modestly-priced, remote and digitally secure way for conveyancers to securely identify the buyers and sellers of a property. HMLR will be hosting a virtual event to explore how we can help identity solution providers to develop an accessible service for conveyancers. If you would like to be involved in this event, please do add your details to the sign-up form.

Recent guidance for the legal sector from the Legal Sector Affinity Group noted “As an alternative to face-to face documentary verification, legal practices and practitioners may adopt or further utilise electronic means of ID&V [identity and verification] where appropriate to the risks present in the client/transaction.”

As the market for conveyancing services expands again post lockdown conveyancers will be looking for solutions that support distanced working. There are currently nearly 4,000 active conveyancing businesses and they are looking to providers to give them the safe and secure solution they can rely on deliver great customer service at a distance.

Using digital identity checks

Using cryptographic combined with biometric identity solutions presents a potential simple solution. When using these technologies the user places their smartphone next to their passport. The app then analyses the information from the passport chip to cryptographically check the validity of the passport. The user then records a video, which is then compared with the passport photo on the chip to achieve facial recognition. This can be done using a smartphone (Android and iPhones included), wherever they are, and the results are near immediate.

It is essentially the same technology as is used in the automatic immigration barriers at airports. The Home Office used the process for the EU settlement scheme applications of which 79% of users rated it as easy or fairly easy to use.

Evidence indicates this to be a more reliable and secure identity check than visual passport or other identity document checks.

We would encourage potential suppliers of this technology to consider how they might meet the needs of the property market, so that conveyancers might use these cryptographic combined with biometric checks now and in the future. We encourage any providers interested in joining us for the virtual event to add your details to the sign-up form.


This blog is a slightly amended version of one first published  by Mike Harlow, Mike Harlow, General Counsel, Deputy Chief Executive and Deputy Chief Land Registrar at