The Land Registry has been automating the way changes are made to its register that legally documents the ownership of land in England and Wales.
The non-ministerial government department has been working with Abbyy FlexiCapture on the three-year project to help create an electronic document registration service (e-DRS), to digitise and automate document processes.
The Land Registry maintains the land register, where more than 23 million pieces of evidence proving ownership are documented. When a citizen buys a property, or changes details on a lease, the amendments need to be made on the register and were traditionally lodged in paper, before being manually added to a computer system.
When a house sale is completed, the solicitor involved in the sale would have to complete an application with a wet signature, which would then be posted to the Land Registry. Once arrived at the Land Registry, changes would be manually imputed into the system, before another confirmation letter is posted back to the solicitor.
With e-DRS, applications still have to be signed by the purchasing parties, but the solicitor then scans in the documents, logs into a secure channel in the Land Registry and uploads the images. These are then instantly transferred to the register and fields are pre-populated with the information.
A case worker then checks the applications, clicks "complete" and the solicitor will receive confirmation electronically.
Kirsty Eales, central operations manager at the Land Registry, says the case worker is still important to check the details filled in by the solicitor are all correct. “Security of the register, and its integrity, is absolutely paramount,” she says.
The Land Registry is encouraging people to use the electronic registration service by offering 50% off the fee it charges, which is usually incorporated in solicitors' fees when buying a house.
“The highest number of applications are to change a property which has already been registered. E-DRS allows us to be more efficient, so we’re offering a 50% fee reduction if people use that channel,” says Eales.
Within a few months of the system being live, the Land Registry had digitised five million pages and has recently upgraded its licence to deal with the anticipated volume of 10 million pages in 2014.
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Abbyy was chosen because of its document-management capabilities, as well as the fact it was easy to integrate with the Land Registry’s existing Java-developed software.
The new service is integrated fully in the existing workflow and has contributed to a significant decrease in paper.
“If you need a change or correction, there’s not as much of a delay with no paper processes coming in and out,” says Kevin Rowley, delivery manager for the IT solutions group at the Land Registry.
In August 2014, the Land Registry launched its LR Connect project, which is intended to transform its business strategy by developing new digital services and tools.
However, the e-DRS area of the the Land Registry has been ahead of the game, planning and co-ordinating the system before the wider announcement of the organisation’s digital intentions.
Now the LR Connect programme has come into existence, initiatives like e-DRS will fit into the new project, helping the Land Registry become increasingly digital.
LR Connect will cover every aspect of its business, including offering new digital services, changing internal culture and becoming more efficient.
The organisation plans to create new digital services and tools, which will be developed with help from the Government Digital Service (GDS) and through working with customers, other suppliers and stakeholders.
“Our aim is to become a leader in digital land registration, data and other land and property services,” says Caroline Kyriazis, senior digital marketing manager at the Land Registry, in a blog post about LR Connect.
However, the project has recently come under the spotlight after Computer Weekly revealed two key executives on the programme left the organisation due to their tax arrangements.
The contracts of the digital project portfolio director, Richard Lundie-Sadd, and the interim chief technology officer (CTO), Gordon McMullan, were terminated by the Land Registry on 15 Augus for failure to comply with government policy over staff tax status.
The project now faces further uncertainty after as many as 25 IT contractors at the Land Registry could potentially have their contracts terminated.