Thanks to Mr Maguire for his message on my previous blog post. I do appreciate it when people take the time to get in touch with their thoughts.
Having good, regular communication with the legal profession is something I feel very strongly about as it helps us understand more fully the context in which land registration operates and the wider implications of our actions.
While I responded directly, I thought given the nature of the questions, my answers might be of interest and worthwhile making into a follow up blog.
Since taking up the post of Keeper of the Registers of Scotland, I have publicly recognised that we have an arrear and that the time taken to complete some applications for registration is much too long. Please be assured that I recognise the impact these delays have on solicitors and I firmly believe that not completing applications within our defined service standards is unacceptable. I have therefore made tackling the backlog of applications and reducing the application processing time one of our main priorities.
Until the changes we had to make during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we were directing all our efforts to clearing the arrear and putting measures in place to prevent it from building up again in future. These efforts included the ongoing development of new and more efficient working procedures, investment in new IT systems and the recruitment of additional staff. Prior to March 2020 we were on track to have removed our first registration arrear by September 2020 and to be completing all first registrations within their service standard.
When our offices closed in March in response to the Scottish Government’s guidance on Covid-19, we had to temporarily divert our focus to find ways of meeting our registration duties while our staff were working from home. I am very proud of the progress we made in a short period of time over the spring and summer; enabling all of our staff to work from home, introducing digital submission of applications in the land register and the sasine register, as well as developing new digital work practices. Although the “usual” is a new usual, I am delighted to say that RoS is operating again as “business as usual”.
This has allowed me and my senior management colleagues to take stock of the current position and look at how we are best placed, going forward, to address the challenge of the arrear.
Those applications remaining in the arrear are generally more complex, both spatially and legally, and we are limited in the number of specialist staff we have available to deal with these applications. This is one of the main underlying reasons an arrear has arisen, and as noted previously, we are seeking to address this through our on-going investment in recruiting, training and developing staff. We are also investing in technology improvements to automate more of our work on dealings with whole, which will allow us to divert more people onto FRs in due course.
Keeper Induced Registration (KIR) and the impact this has on staff resource available to us is something that we have also been considering. As a result, we have recently put a temporary pause on most KIR work to allow us to have the maximum number of registration staff available to work on reducing the arrear. Similarly, I took the decision to pause our plans assistance service (as this is not a statutory service and other providers are available) to maximise the number of colleagues available to support our statutory work.
We are in the early stages of changing our registration team structure, moving away from large, single specialism teams, to smaller, more flexible squads made up of staff with a wider range of knowledge and experience in a mix of specialisms.
We see these squads as being a way of shortening the application journey time with less “shelf time” in between stages of the registration process. Also, by collaborative working within the squads, we anticipate added benefits in staff development. A number of squads are already in place, with some focussing specifically on clearing the oldest casework, and others working on completing new applications to prevent the arrear from growing again in future.
This is an important aspect of our strategy to ensure all applications are completed within the service standard in the future. We have set an initial target to have cleared our 2017 FR arrear (and the majority of 2017 TP cases), and to ensure that 60% of all new applications (across all product types) are completed within 35 days, by March 2021.
The squads will be bolstered by the addition of the staff we have recruited and promoted. Whilst their training was interrupted by the pandemic, these officers are now being trained remotely and are joining the squads tackling the oldest casework.
We are also redesigning the way we work, to make better use of information and technology to make the whole process more efficient and streamlined.
We continue to offer an expedite service for any applications that due to financial or personal reasons need to be completed earlier than they will naturally emerge from the process as we work through addressing the remaining arrear.
We also remain committed to avoiding rejections of any cases we have had for longer than three months, unless it is legally unavoidable. I appreciate that these approaches are not a substitute for resolving the underlying issue and returning all applications to service standard, but they are intended to mitigate any impact that could arise from the delay.
On a final point, we actively engage with the lending community to help them better understand the status of their standard securities whilst an application for registration is pending. We have recently met with UK Finance to discuss the position with them, and my Customer Relationship Managers have regular contact with the main lenders, and amongst other things, are working with them to find ways to keep them updated on the status of applications so they do not need to contact individual solicitors for this information.
I am committed to ensuring that our performance against our service standards is transparent to our customers. In addition to the regular updates on how we are performing specifically against the KPIs outlined above, we publish information on our current performance against our service standards and the number of cases in our arrear.
I hope this follow up blog has been useful, thanks again to Mr Maguire for taking the time to comment.