Supporting Scotland’s property market

Supporting Scotland’s property market

Blog post by Jennifer Henderson, Keeper of the Registers of Scotland.

I wrote to you last week to outline some measures that Registers of Scotland (RoS) had taken in response to the ongoing public health emergency resulting from the Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. I want to update you on how these measures have been helping Scotland’s property market.

Government guidance

On Tuesday, 31 March, the Scottish Government published its guidance for people buying or selling private residential homes in Scotland during the Coronavirus outbreak. It advised people to delay moving to a new home while stay-at-home measures are in place. The Government recommended that in all circumstances, buyers and sellers should speak to their solicitor.

Ministers continue to work with the Law Society of Scotland and others to ensure that Government guidance is clear for professional advisers, including solicitors, about when they should settle transactions and when they should not.

Why it is important for RoS to remain open at this time

  • To process those essential house moves that are permitted to take place under the terms of the Government regulations currently in force
  • To continue to process those transactions which don’t require physical moves, such as re-mortgages and some commercial property deals

Recognising that it is important for RoS to continue operating during this period and get, as quickly as possible, to the position where all types of transaction that need progress can do so as smoothly as possible for all parties, I am pleased to be able to tell you about the progress we have made in mitigating the impact of having to temporarily close the application record.

Digital solution

On Monday (6 April) RoS launched our new digital portal for the submission of advance notices. This built on our interim process that was introduced to mitigate the impact of the temporary closure of the application record.

Within two weeks of the application record being closed, the digital solution was developed in-house at RoS, tested by our user experience (UX) panel of customers, and launched. Developing the new service hand-in-hand with customers helped to ensure its launch has been very successful. The feedback we have received from customers who have used the new process has been wholly positive, and the Law Society of Scotland tells us that the new process is working effectively and safely for its members.

For full details of how the digital solution works and to watch a video demonstration, please visit the RoS website.

More digital solutions

Work to develop a system to enable the digital submission of actual applications and live deeds into our property registers made good progress in the last week. The technical solution is now in private beta test with UX panel customers and other aspects which would enable us to switch this system on for all customers (such as risk mitigation and providing additional remote working capability for RoS colleagues) are being put in place. I will keep you updated on our progress in this area.

Please see the RoS website for the latest guidance.

Reopening the application record

I agreed this week with the Law Society of Scotland that before I declare the application record is fully reopen, I will consult with the Law Society to agree when that will be and ensure the profession will have at least 10 days’ notice of the application fully reopening and 10 days protected period after that. LSS agree that this should allow a sufficient amount of time to get the necessary paperwork in place.

Emergency legislation

The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 which came into force on 7 April, will:

Enable the property registers to continue to function and accept new applications

Extend the existing 35 day period that an advance notice provides to applicants for a period of 10 days after the registers are fully reopened allowing essential property transactions already in progress to proceed to settlement

Allow people to submit applications for registration to the property registers digitally while the Registers of Scotland are temporarily unable to receive paper applications

I’m grateful to MSPs for implementing these measures which allow RoS to continue to support the economy of Scotland. A potential amendment at Stage 2 of the Bill was suggested by the Law Society of Scotland. In the event, this amendment was not pressed but I am pleased to confirm that the Law Society and I have reached agreement on an administrative solution (as described above), which will deliver the same effect they were seeking via the amendment.

Full details of how the advance notice submission process works in light of the new legislation coming into force can be found on the RoS website.

Supporting customers

In line with ongoing guidance from Government and NHS Scotland, our buildings remain closed and all RoS staff who are able to work from home continue to do so.

RoS Customer Services team continue to be on hand throughout the ongoing health emergency to offer expert advice and reassurance. As of noon on Thursday 9 April I am happy to confirm that we have resolved all enquiries that are within RoS’ control. A small number of unresolved cases outwith RoS’ control are for solicitors to resolve on behalf of their clients.

I would like to take the opportunity to emphasise that, for any transaction which needs to proceed and which is not covered by the provisions outlined above, or for any registration service which you need and which you believe you cannot currently access, please do continue to contact RoS Customer Services. In many cases they will be able to solve the problem, or for the more unusual issues they will be able to arrange for one of our senior advisors to speak to you, and we will work with you to find a resolution to the issue.

Law Society of Scotland

Throughout this process, we continue to work closely with the Law Society to agree that our innovations, such as the digital portal and interim measures, are what their members and clients need to settle transactions.

Solicitors with any queries in respect of the Law Society guidance concerning the measures that are in place to mitigate the impact of the health emergency should contact the Law Society’s Professional Practice team by email to discuss their case.

Supporting Scotland

These are very challenging times for everyone and you can be assured that the RoS team and I are doing all that we can to support your staff, your customers and businesses. Like many organisations we have had to adapt to home-based working, and am pleased to confirm that the swift implementation of our business continuity plan, and the flexibility of my staff and our systems, means that we are able to continue to deliver our services to the citizens of Scotland.

Questions

I was surprised to hear from RoS Customer Service colleagues that they had been receiving enquiries this week from land and property professionals who’d asked what was an advance notice. An advance notice is a document which we register when a property transaction is pending. It secures a placeholder for the registration application to arrive. It is a standard part of the property conveyancing process. Full details of how advance notices work can be found on the RoS website.

Please be aware that the guidance on advance notices on the RoS website needs to be read in conjunction with the additional advance notice process changes that are now applying as part of our response to Covid-19.

A bespoke email address covid19enquiries@ros.gov.uk is available for general questions about RoS processes and procedures during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Please direct enquiries about specific property transactions and cases to:

Email: customerservices@ros.gov.uk
Phone: 0800 169 9391

If there are is anything else you would like to bring to my attention during this period, please email FAO Jennifer Henderson: rossecretariat@ros.gov.uk

Jennifer Henderson, Keeper of the Registers of Scotland

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