Digital identity checks will become the norm in legal departments

Identity verification can be a frustrating and time-consuming part of the home buying and selling process for everyone involved. However, plans to streamline by digitizing identity checks have recently taken a step forward after the government announced plans to draft new legislation making virtual forms of identity as reliable and secure as physical documents.

In addition, a digital identity trust program called “MyIdentity”, which has been tested since last year, has been given the green light for beta testing in the Financial Conduct Authority’s regulatory sandbox – one of the last steps before a product is made available to the public.

It’s not a new idea – last year HM Land Registry introduced a digital ID standard for conveyances to confirm the identity of their customers involving both biometric and cryptographic checks. The vast majority of CLC-regulated practices already use digital tools to verify identity, sanction status and to perform anti-money laundering checks.

However, this is a significant development, which should benefit both consumers and real estate agents, mortgage brokers, conveyancing practitioners and other professionals involved in a real estate transaction.


The government is encouraging all sectors to embrace digital identity verification, although there has been some reluctance, thought to be linked to concerns about the sharing of personal data online.

In fact, experts believe that verifying identities virtually rather than physically is actually faster, cheaper, and more secure.

Digital identity checks can be completed in minutes, while manual document processing can take days or even weeks. They can also be done from anywhere, which is particularly useful for clients who may, for example, be sick or live far away and find it difficult to attend in person.

Saving time is saving money because it allows the legal work to start sooner. Once the processes are configured, they can also be used with all clients.

But such is the reluctance that LawtechUK – a collaboration with the Ministry of Justice among others, aimed at supporting the digital transformation of the legal sector – and its Regulatory Response Unit, which brings together all the regulators concerned, have just released a statement highlighting the benefits of digital ID tools.

The digital identity standard already used in the transfer of ownership shows how robust these controls must be. It combines a number of technologies, including biometric verification, such as facial recognition or fingerprint reading, “liveliness” testing where the technology is used to detect a real presence on the other end of the device, and cryptographic checks, where only the sender and receiver can see the message. These reduce the risk of human error and also mean that information can be encrypted and stored digitally, which, in turn, reduces the risks associated with physical storage and document management.

The future is digital

Previously, companies may have been reluctant to deploy digital controls unless they were confident the technology they were using was secure enough, but the aforementioned systems should provide that clarity and certainty.

HM Land Registry is so confident that it has said it will not take action against translators who adopt its digital identity standard in the event of a fraudulent transaction, as they will be deemed to have correctly carried out all the necessary checks.

Digital identity checks are becoming increasingly common and can be expected to become the norm in legal services, just as they already are in industries such as banking.

It is important to note, however, that manual identity verification will still be appropriate in certain circumstances, such as when a customer cannot or does not want to use digital tools, so businesses need to be aware. comfortable with both.

Stephen Ward is director of strategy and external relations at the Council for Licensed Conveyancers