The Land Registry has launched an online information retrieval service that promises to help surveyors and lawyers speed up the laborious search for property documents.
Developed with Global Crossing Europe, the service is a key stepping stone towards electronic conveyancing for people buying and selling property, said Lord Chancellor Derry Irvine as he launched the project.
Users will be able to sign up for Land Registry Direct, a secure extranet, for a one-off charge of £100. They will then be able to view registers via either the title number or property address.
Subscribers will be able to lodge real-time priority official searches and order documents, which will be cheaper than orders by post.
More than 17 million computerised registers and title plans are available with more coming online on a daily basis, as the Registry continues its document scanning programme. The Registry aims to scan in excess of 100 million documents onto its database by 2004.
Endorsing www.landregistrydirect.gov.uk, the Government's e-envoy Alex Allan said, "This is a leading-edge service."
Property professionals seem equally enthusiastic. Toby Chard, a surveyor at King Sturge, one of Europe's largest surveying partnerships in Europe, said the service would be very useful. "It can usually take at least a week to get information from the Land Registry," said Chard.
"Being able to search on-line at this cost will be a big bonus for us and let us provide a better service for our clients," he added.