Urgent discussions are continuing between Registers of Scotland and the Law Society of Scotland on how to enable house transactions due to settle this week, to go ahead.
Yesterday Registers announced it was temporarily closing its applications record, meaning that house transfer documents would not be accepted for registration in the Land Register. This was to "safeguard the health and wellbeing of our colleagues and the wider community by following the latest Government advice" on controlling the COVID-19 outbreak.
Digital applications would still be accepted, but house transfers still require paper documents, and the Law Society of Scotland issued advice that settlements should not go ahead at least until a further announcement from Registers, promised for Friday this week.
Purchasers due to settle this week expressed immediate alarm via social media. Some were in hotels that were about to close, while others were having to move out of rented accommodation.
In a further announcement this morning, Registers said it had been holding discussions with the Society and UK Finance interests about how to enable settlements that need to proceed in the next few days, to go ahead.
"We are concluding our discussions with the Law Society and UK Finance this morning and will be providing further guidance later today on the options available to customers," it stated.
"If your clients have no other option but to settle today (Wednesday 25 March) please call 0800 169 9391 and select customer services from the options. Please state to the customer advisor who takes your call that you need to settle today. They will take your details and we will arrange for a RoS senior adviser to speak to you as soon as possible to discuss your specific circumstances and find a solution for you."
People settling after today are asked to wait for the further guidance.
"We will continue to deal with cases on a day by day basis, whilst simultaneously working to find a solution to reopen the application record remotely as soon as we can", Registers added.
Solicitor Brian Inkster has called in a blog for Registers to announce immediately that it will adopt a "simple and straightforward" solution regularly followed by solicitors in other contractual situations.
"Solicitors fax or email contractual letters to one another on the basis that the principal signed letter will follow", he writes in The Time Blawg. "They do the same with regard to delivering the signed disposition (title deed) at settlement. They do the same with formal letters of undertaking.
"Registers of Scotland should do the same when accepting applications and registering title deeds in the time of COVID-19. Just allow solicitors to scan and email the applications in. Process and acknowledge them on that basis by email. Tell the solicitors to retain the principal deeds (do Registers of Scotland really need to see those?), but on the basis that if there are any queries prior to the title sheet being created or updated the solicitor may need to submit the principal deeds. Or, if they must, insist that the principal application must follow by post/DX before the title sheet is created or updated. If that was the system this could be up and running [this] morning surely?"
He adds: "Please Registers of Scotland don’t, whatever you do, start building a new online portal to deal with this issue. You did that in 2009 and it’s not been used much since, despite me championing it. That can be a project for once the current crisis is over. In the meantime please keep it simple to enable solicitors to easily do their jobs from home and get their clients into their new homes on the dates of entry already committed to."