The Law Society’s New Conveyancing Portal

‘Title Insurance’, ‘the Protocol’, ‘Transaction’, ‘HIPs’ (Where on earth did they get to?) and now the ‘Conveyancing Portal’. Those of you who work in conveyancing departments will undoubtedly know all about this latest development – the ‘cure all’ for conveyancing ills. But … I wonder.

The portal has been created to speed up the conveyancing process. But it’s not really a new thing – this trying to speed up conveyancing. Once it really took off, there’s been no stopping it. I remember my first introduction to the notion that, to most people, the conveyancing process was somewhat akin to wading through a vat of cold treacle. I remember, as a young lawyer, someone saying to me, “Why does everyone moan about the high Solicitors’ costs for conveyancing but they don’t moan so much about Estate Agents’ fees?”

So, why do clients moan more about a Solicitor’s fees than those of an Estate Agent? Well, it’s because an Estate Agent provides the customer with something very valuable – something that the customer wants more than anything else at that particular time – a buyer! What then does a Solicitor do for his money? Well, some Solicitors are extremely efficient and sail through the conveyancing process, but as we all know, others drag the whole thing out for months on end before the sale/purchase can be completed, and clients often experience unhelpfulness and frustration along the way! So how can Solicitors provide ‘value’ for what they do?

I mentioned that speeding up conveyancing wasn’t a new thing. Way back in the mid-1960s, the Law Society produced the ‘Conveyancing Log Book’ scheme. It was based on the ‘Log Book’ – or as it was correctly called, the “Registration Book” for a Mechanically Propelled Road Vehicle (issued pursuant to the Roads Act 1920). Every car owner used to have one as proof of ownership of the car. When a new car was first bought, the purchaser was issued the Log Book, which contained a full description of the car and its registration number (i.e. number plate details); he then had to enter his name and address in the place provided, sign it and send it to the Licensing Department of the local authority, which would stamp the book with its official stamp and return it. Every time the car was sold and bought, the new purchaser had his details entered as the new owner and stamped as before. So, thought the Law Society, if you can do it for cars, why not do it for houses? It could speed up the whole transaction, make it cheaper for the client, do away with the Land Registry and save the taxpayers loads of money.

This is how it worked: The first time a house came under the scheme, the seller’s Solicitor investigated the title and prepared the Log Book, entering in it the kind of information found in the Property, Proprietorship and Charges Registries of a property registered at the Land Registry (including all the rights easements, covenants and stipulations applicable). The Solicitor then signed the Log Book, certifying that the title to the property was a good and marketable title subject to the entries contained in it and that you were the owner, and then stamped it with his or her stamp.

When the property was sold, all that was needed was the usual standard contract, preliminary enquiries (which could be standardised and the answers sent with the contract) and local authority searches to be made. No requisitions needed to be made as the title had already been certified. Also, under the scheme, no letters needed to pass between seller’s and buyer’s Solicitors. There was a standard sheet on which was printed the different stages in the transaction, and this went between the two sets of Solicitors, who signed each step and initialled it when the steps took place. No deeds of transfer or conveyance were needed because on completion, the date of sale and details of the new purchase were entered in the Log Book and certified by the buyer’s and seller’s Solicitors.

It sounds like a very simple solution, but unfortunately it only lasted about six months and then faded into obscurity. Why? Because the profession didn’t like it – there would no longer be the ‘mystery’ of conveyancing under which Solicitors were able to defend their high fees. Why, if you had a Log Book for your house, which guaranteed ownership, would you need a Solicitor? You don’t need a Solicitor to buy or sell your car – not even a Ferrari!

But I digress. What about the new Law Society portal? What is so good about this which is going to be the panacea that will cure the ‘ills’ of the poor old conveyancing system?

Mastek UK (a global IT solutions specialist), who are the designers of the system (the proper title for which is ‘Veyo’), and the Law Society who are financing it on a joint venture basis (60/40 in favour of the Law Society) have apparently invested £10 million in it.

So what is Veyo – the portal? Elliott Vigar, chief executive officer of Veyo, said:

“Veyo is a market changing product that will provide conveyancers with a comprehensive online tool to make conveyancing much more efficient and transparent, within a secure environment. In its first phase, the system will allow professionals to better communicate with each other, clients and other parties, satisfy due diligence obligations more quickly and facilitate the conveyance of residential property through established protocols. In doing so, it will not only speed up the house-buying process for consumers but enable greater efficiency for conveyancers.” 

Veyo is a ‘cloud’ based tool. This means that all the information is not stored on your computer and is therefore more secure. It also means that all authorised parties have access to all information on the case relating not only to the immediate sale and purchase but to all other linked sales and purchases – the ‘chain’, as it is called. Whereas it incorporates its own case management system, it does much more than a standard office-based case management system does. Eventually it will be possible to do all Land Registry applications, including all changes to the registers, pay the stamp duty, make all searches, etc. through the system. 

I have heard it said that moving house is more stressful than going through a divorce – well, I don’t know about that as I have never been divorced, but I do know that many people find the conveyancing process extremely stressful, with delays and property transactions falling through being a reality for many. Veyo seeks to put an end to the stress and frustration felt by all parties during the process by improving transparency, efficiency, security and communication. It is not going to stop transactions falling through, but the designers claim that by using Veyo, conveyancers will not only be able to share and edit their documents in an online environment, but they will be able to communicate as well. Forget traditional mail or phone calls: all parties will be able to engage in online chat or through messages posted onto the case, so that all parties are instantly aware of what needs to be done. 

Improving transparency is a good thing, so this will be a benefit. In my experience, it is not a breakdown in the conveyancing system itself that causes delays – it’s those who operate the system that are at fault. Let me give you an example, a very recent one. A neighbour of mine was selling her house. The title was registered, but it was a fairly ‘messy’ title in that it contained rights and easements and both positive and restrictive covenants affecting and being affected by several different neighbouring lands and properties. Most of these were set out in full in the Land Registry Title Information Document, but one of the entries in the Property Register was as follows:

            5.         (08.02.07) The Land has the benefit of the rights granted by a                         Deed dated 19 October 1959 made between……..................                                        Note:  Copy filed under CL 1234567

My neighbour had put the property on the market in September of last year and almost immediately found a buyer (Mr & Mrs A). However, this buyer dropped out for unavoidable personal reasons in early November. Another purchaser was quickly found, but they dropped out in February of this year because they decided that they wanted a slightly larger house. Then Mr & Mrs A immediately came back on the market (previous personal reasons having been resolved) and wanted to move as quickly as possible. They provisionally agreed on a completion date of 3rd April. In mid-March the neighbour’s Solicitors told her that they were posting the contract to her for signature. It didn’t arrive. Eventually it was found that the Solicitor had posted it to an entirely different client! When it was eventually posted to her and she signed it, it was agreed that they would exchange contracts and complete them on the same day (3rd April). On the 30th March the neighbour’s Solicitors received a letter from Mr & Mrs A’s Solicitors saying “Please supply a copy of the Deed dated the 19th October 1959 referred to in entry No 5 of the Property Register”. Her Solicitors didn’t have a copy! Here we have two firms of Solicitors, neither of whom had even noticed until a few days before completion that the 1959 deed was in existence – it’s virtually unbelievable. How did I come to know about it? Because my neighbour came round to ask me whether I had the title deeds to my house, and if so was there a copy of this 1959 deed amongst them. I did, and saved the day – well, the completion day anyway!

And don’t think that this is the only example I could cite. How about the terraced house, with a registered title, that had a large back garden and which had changed hands six times since it was registered. That means that there were at least 12 Solicitors dealing with these transactions over that period of time, and not one of them had noticed that the back garden was not included in the title! Or the client of mine who had already sold his house and was now buying another one (which was vacant). When he came in to sign the contract, he told me that he didn’t really want to buy the house, but only wanted to be able to store his furniture in its garage until he found a property he really wanted to buy, and he thought that he could get away with it if the seller thought he was going to buy it! Or what about the client who was buying a property in Cornwall (I was practicing in London at the time); when I received the draft contract from the Cornish Solicitors, I saw that the title was unregistered and started with a good root of title well over the requisite 15-year period. In those days, a whole unregistered title was not deduced nor investigated until contracts were exchanged. When contracts were exchanged, I found that there was no evidence whatsoever of the devolution of the title from the root given in the contract, to the seller. When I phoned up to query this, the Solicitor said words to the effect that most of the people down there didn’t bother much with deeds and such stuff like that, but everyone knew that the seller owned that house and the land, and had done so since he bought it from old whatever-his-name-was at the time when Mrs Trelawney lost her goat down the well and that my client need not, therefore, be bothered about it! Needless to say, my client didn’t heed his words of advice. I could go on! So, whatever is put in place to ease the stress of the poor unfortunate house buyers and sellers, none can deal with the vagaries of life; however, Veyo will hopefully help to reduce some of the difficulties experienced. 

Finally, what does Veyo cost? Well, in terms of special equipment, nothing, as it can be accessed from all types of computers, tablets, etc. and even has an app for smartphones. There is just a fee of £50 per annum for each user of the system (not per firm, but per individual) plus £20 per case payable by the firm on the receipt of instructions from the client. This is non-refundable if the case does not go through. Presumably this cost will be passed on to the client. The Law Society says that it is not a mandatory system, although Veyo state that 47% of Solicitors/conveyancing firms, ranging from volume conveyancers to sole practitioners, have submitted their order to benefit from an early-adopter scheme.

ILSPA would like to wish the Law Society and Veyo good luck with the new scheme. It sounds very promising!