Following the Prime Minister's statement on Monday 23, Registers of Scotland (RoS) suspended the Applications Record of the Land Register and closed their offices in Glasgow and Edinburgh on 24 March. This means that they are no longer accepting applications for registration of titles.
Our Property Law Committeee has been engaged in late night discussions with stakeholders, including RoS and UK Finance, to examine whether a new framework can be devised quickly which would allow some settlements in the immediate short term. A specific proposal is being considered and discussed. This may need new regulations for RoS to implement and would require approval of any mortgage lenders concerned in transactions, together with that of Scottish Government if Help to Buy schemes are involved.
The sudden cessation of settlements is understandably causing huge additional stress to those involved - members of the public, solicitors and their staff. Most solicitors' offices are now closed in accordance with the new restrictions and although many are now working at home, do not have consistent access to all office resources and they will have no face to face contact with clients.
The action by Ros and the Society’s subsequent recommendation to solicitors has been taken in the interests of public health. The Scottish and UK Governments have not categorised workers in this field to be key workers who can continue to travel to work.
The Law Society takes the government restrictions and the health and wellbeing of its members into account in all guidance it issues.
Removal companies are also to be ceasing carrying out house moves and lenders are indicating longer lead times to make mortgage funds available.
If the framework can be implemented, it will not cover every transaction. For example if signed documents are not already held by solicitors, travel and movement restrictions and office closures will prevent these being sent to the requisite person and make it unlikely that such transactions could come within the scope of the framework.
For transactions due to settle after the next week, we understand that RoS are working on arrangements that might allow certain deeds to be submitted via email. Currently, with a very limited exception (which does not apply to house purchases), only paper deeds with wet signatures are legally suitable for land registration.
We will work with RoS, UK Finance, and others to see if a safe and secure way of allowing property transactions to be registered can be found, and to reduce so far as possible the ongoing disruption to the property market caused by the necessary Government restrictions.
Work will continue on the current proposals on 25 March and we will provide regular updates as soon as possible.