Laying the foundations for recovery

I’m continuing to send you regular updates to outline the measures that Registers of Scotland (RoS) are taking in response to the ongoing public health emergency and how these measures have been helping your businesses and customers.

Scotland’s housing market

The Scottish Government’s guidance continues to state that, as part of ongoing measures to save lives and protect the NHS, residential property transactions in Scotland should, where possible, be postponed and rescheduled.

On Thursday (21 May) the First Minister outlined the government’s routemap to moving out of lockdown. Phase 1, which begins on 28 May, includes planning for the construction sector to implement the first two phases in its restart plan with a decision to move to the second phase of the construction sector’s plan only after consulting with government to ensure it is safe to do so in line with public health advice.

The government anticipates a relaxation of restrictions on housing moves in Phase 2 of the routemap, a date for which has not yet been confirmed.

RoS is involved in the Home Moves in Scotland Restart and Recovery working group currently advising government on the most effective and sustainable way to restart the property sector. The group includes stakeholders from across the industry, including developers, removers, estate agents, lenders and solicitors.

The successful implementation of RoS digital services (described below) will mean that we are ready to support the recovery of Scotland’s housing market once lockdown measures are eased.

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

To process those essential house moves and commercial property transactions that are permitted to take place under the terms of the current Government regulations

To continue to process those transactions which don’t require physical moves, such as re-mortgages and some commercial property deals.

For transactions that can’t be delayed, and can be completed while adhering to government guidance, RoS has delivered a range of digital submission solutions to support the Scottish property market.

Advance notices

Our digital submission portal for advance notices has been operating successfully for more than a month. We are receiving and successfully processing circa 400 advance notices per day.

As those of you who have used it will know, customers receive the usual email confirmation when their advance notice has been taken on to the system. However, you may have noticed that the language in this notification is slightly different to normal, to reflect the current provisions around how long an advance notice will last. All advance notices will start with the usual 35 days’ duration, but the provisions in the emergency legislation that came into force on 6 April as part of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, will take effect when a new advance notice reaches 10 days to run (assuming the application record is still closed) so the advance notice will continue to be kept active beyond the usual 35 days, until 10 days after the application record reopens.

All current and re-enabled advance notices are now visible on ScotLIS.

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

Digital applications

I am pleased to report that the portal for the submission of applications continues to operate successfully. We are currently accepting applications protected by advance notices with a start date up until 16 April 2020.

Additional support

  • Whilst we are working through receiving and processing these applications, we will, in parallel, continue to offer a service to enable any applications which must proceed urgently, but which can’t settle under an advance notice and therefore need to be taken onto the application record in order for settlement to go ahead, to be taken on; so it remains the case that nothing urgent is precluded from settling during this catch-up period. To enquire about this please email customerservices@ros.gov.uk or phone 0800 169 9391.
  • Please note there is no need to upload your application form with the deed to be registered. We have all of the information we need for registration from the alpha code you enter to begin the process.
  • In addition, we are able to provide copy deeds to solicitors and in the event that a case can only be resolved by having the original deeds or an official extract in hand then RoS has a process in place to make this happen.
  • The successful implementation of the digital submissions portal is part of my determined effort to ensure that I am not reliant on access to physical buildings in order to keep the application record open, as I do not want to ever have to temporarily close the application record again.

Proposed legislation

  • I have mentioned in previous updates the possibility of legislation to allow for electronic transmission/recording in registers other than the property registers. Provision has been included in the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No. 2) Bill, which is about to receive Royal Assent, to that effect
  • When it becomes law, this would ensure that those writs/documents which fall to be recorded in the Register of Inhibitions or the Register of Judgements, and are no already covered by Schedule 4 of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, will be covered to allow for electronic submission of documents or copies of documents for registration.
  • We will providing more information about how documents can be submitting electronically to these registers, and exactly when the system to support this submission will be going live, as part of our communication updates next week.
  • The proposed legislation includes a range of measures aimed at supporting businesses and citizens. More details.

Reopening the application record

The successful launch of a digital system to enable the submission of applications and live deeds will be a significant step towards our being able to formally reopen the application record. The introduction of the digital submission service does not constitute or indicate the reopening of the application record. This will only happen when I am confident it is the right time to do so in consultation with the Law Society.

Managing the impact of Covid-19 on RoS finances

The current hiatus in the market will, however, have a significant impact on RoS’ income for the current financial year, which we will not be able to influence. What we can do in response, is optimise the work we can achieve remotely and review all opportunities to reduce expenditure.

We have started to implement measures to mitigate the impact that lockdown has had on our income. This includes reducing the costs of agency and contract staff and applying to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to help fund the salaries of those members of RoS staff whose services we don’t require at the current time given the impact that the lockdown measures have had on the volume of registrations we receive.

All furloughed staff will continue to be paid their full salaries, they remain on RoS payroll and their benefits are unaffected.

We continue to consider a range of measures to manage our income and expenditure.

Transparency

On Wednesday (19 May) the latest monthly UK House Price Index was published by ONS. This is a National Statistic measuring house price inflation based on data collated by the land registers of Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. The latest report included transactions up to the end of March 2020, and as such showed the initial impact that lockdown measures were starting to have on the market.

ONS, in consultation with the land registries, has decided to suspend publication of the UK HPI report while lockdown measures are in place as the small number of transactions that are going ahead makes it difficult to produce meaningful data on average property prices in a given area or provide year-on-year comparisons. However, RoS will continue to publish its own data on the number of housing transactions completed each month. This will continue to provide an insight into the impact that lockdown is having on the numbers of properties being bought and sold across Scotland.

Keeping you informed

I hope you find these weekly updates useful. As part my commitment to keeping our customers informed, this week I was delighted to give presentations and answer questions at the Law Society of Scotland’s Faculty Leader’s Forum and record a Q&A for an LSS CPD webinar.

Law Society of Scotland

Throughout this process, we continue to work very closely with the Law Society to agree that our innovations, such as the digital solutions, 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 Covid-19 pandemic should contact the Law Society’s Professional Practice team by email to discuss their case.

Other registers

If customers are seeking to lodge applications in any of our other registers for which they would normally submit paper applications, please phone RoS customer services on 0800 169 9391 and we will arrange for you to be advised on what options are open to you.

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.

Our Customer Service colleagues continue to deliver expert support and advice. As of noon on Friday 22 May 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.

We continue to update the RoS website with the latest guidance.

Supporting you

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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