A call from an ARTL supporter for Registers of Scotland to improve its efficiency, and a response from RoS

In 2008 Registers of Scotland hailed ARTL as a “quicker, more efficient and cheaper system of registration” (quote from www.ros.gov.uk). It was envisaged as the first step towards e-conveyancing in Scotland.

I must say that I fully support the concept of ARTL and believe that an electronic system is essential for the progress of land registration in Scotland. As a “heavy user”, supervising the registration of over 300 deeds by ARTL per month since January 2011, I unfortunately have to propose that the current system falls short in respect of speed, efficiency and cost.

Time trials

Beginning with speed, in my opinion the biggest challenge facing any user is how to fill the dead time while waiting for screens to load. This can be excruciatingly slow, ranging from 10 to 40 seconds per page in my experience. It can take over three minutes to complete the signature, approval and submission of a simple standard security, surely one of the most basic registration processes there is.

Some may argue that this depends on the user’s web connection speed, but I have tried this over several different connections, at different locations, with a typical connection speed of between 10 and 20 MB per second, all without any discernible improvement. As a web-based system, I assume that the screen load times should be no longer than any other website and I have yet to receive any reasonable explanation why this is not the case.

I would also note that there appear to be abnormally high volumes of “internal server errors”, at best typically requiring a screen refresh, or at worst requiring the user to log out and then re-attempt the transaction.

Partners please

Secondly, let’s look at efficiency. In the “good old days” of paper registrations, typically the conveyancer would prepare the deed and registration forms, package these together in an application for registration and place in front of the partner for signature. The partner would then check the application, sign where necessary and have done with it. Through ARTL, this simple process has been replicated, which I find highly commendable and think is a strength of the system.

However, the partner must now be much more involved: they must log in to ARTL, select the appropriate application, elect to sign the deed, then they must provide an electronic signature to approve the transaction and then another to submit. The reasoning behind this, I believe, is that approving the transaction is analogous to signing the registration form and submitting the transaction is analogous to signing the cheque. The issue I have experienced is that this whole process takes up much more valuable partner time than simply checking and signing an application for registration.

There is also an issue with the use of chip & pin cards; while I agree that this is a secure, triple verification method of security, I feel it is unnecessarily protracted, and a simple but robust password verification method would be suitable. If the cards are deemed essential, perhaps a unified approval and submission process could be considered.

Time is money

Finally, we come to cost, which I suggest is entirely dependent on speed and efficiency. Of course, we have to separate primary costs from secondary costs in any analysis. With that in mind, while the primary cost of registration dues is less where ARTL is used, the secondary costs of staff time have increased due to the above factors. There are also the setup costs of time spent on staff training, installing card readers and the IT resource for supporting ARTL functionality issues within any firm.

There may well be some firms which absorb the savings in registration dues to cover these extra costs, and I make no comment on whether this is right or wrong, but in the economic environment we find ourselves in, I think it fair to say that most will pass this saving on to their clients. As such there is no real cost reduction to the firms using ARTL.

None of these issues are insurmountable, and all are of course interrelated, so it would not take much to improve the system to one which does hit the mark and achieve the desired improvements in speed, efficiency and cost.

RoS comment: Work ongoing on upgrading our systems

Registers of Scotland remains committed to ARTL. Like Richard Street, we also believe that with a “reasonable overhaul” it could be a lot “more useful and likely to be adopted by more of the profession”. While overhauling ARTL may sound an easy step, it is in fact very complicated as ARTL relies heavily on many of our older systems that we are currently striving to upgrade. Until that is at a more advanced stage, major improvements to ARTL cannot be made.

We have recently appointed a new chief information officer and he is working to address the issues facing our systems as well as products such as ARTL. There is no quick fix, but we are working to see if we can make any interim improvements and we will be engaging further with the sector to identify a way forward. We apologise for the inconvenience that aspects of the current product present, and assure users that we will continue to provide ongoing support through our helpdesk and account manager team.

Society: Call for ARTL feedback

In conjunction with the Conveyancing Committee, the Society’s Technology Subcommittee has set up a project group to investigate technical issues relating to the ARTL system. The group would like to hear from practitioners who have experienced practical problems with ARTL, particularly those who have used the system extensively. Feedback should be sent to the secretary to the Conveyancing Committee, John Scott (johnscott@lawscot.org.uk).

The Author
Richard Street is a partner in Aberdein Considine & Co, Aberdeen
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