Guidance on home moving
The government has issued guidance for people involved in residential property transactions during the COVID-19 stay-at-home period. The guidance confirms that "there is no need to pull out of transactions", but compliance with the measures for self-isolating, shielding and social distancing is required. This may mean that completing a transaction and moving is not possible on the contractual date.
It encourages home buyers and renters, where possible, to delay moving to a new house while measures are in place to fight coronavirus (COVID-19). Where contracts have already been exchanged it advises as follows:
- Our advice is that if you have already exchanged contracts and the property is currently occupied then all parties should work together to agree a delay or another way to resolve this matter.
- If moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons and the parties are unable to reach an agreement to delay, people must follow advice on staying away from others to minimise the spread of the virus.
- In line with government’s advice, anyone with symptoms, self-isolating or shielding from the virus, should follow medical advice which will mean not moving house for the time being, if at all possible. All parties should prioritise agreeing amicable arrangements to change move dates for individuals in this group, or where someone in a chain is in this group.
It is suggested that conveyancers should advise clients not to exchange contracts on an occupied property unless the contract contains express provisions for the risks presented by COVID-19.
Further guidance has been prepared by a group which includes the Law Society, other regulators and organisations involved with residential conveyancing. It is understood that the guidance has the support of the Land Registry. The further guidance covers four key areas:
- The amendment of existing contracts.
- Advising clients who have already exchanged contracts.
- Advising clients where the transaction is pre-exchange.
- Advising clients who have a need to move during the lockdown period.
The guidance includes a draft clause and the process to follow when varying a completion date.
Sales and purchase of property – social distancing
The Law Society, in conjunction with others, has published guidance aimed at enabling sales and purchases to be carried out while maintaining safety as social distancing measures are eased or increased in line with government guidance. The guide addresses issues including:
- Meeting with clients
- ID verification
- Considerations for electronic and wet ink signatures,
- ‘Mercury’ style execution,
- Simultaneous exchange and completion
- Amending undertakings
- Dealing with lenders
Energy Performance Certificates (EPC)
Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government has published guidance on meeting the regulatory requirement to provide an EPC when marketing a property during the COVID-19 outbreak. The guidance states that:
- The legal requirement to obtain an EPC before selling or letting a property remains in place.
- EPC assessments should only be conducted in accordance with government advice on home moving during the COVID-19 outbreak
- EPC assessments should only be carried out if they can be conducted safely.
If a property is vacant, an EPC can be carried out. If a property is occupied, parties must endeavour to agree that the transaction can be delayed so that an EPC assessment can proceed when stay-at-home measures are no longer in place. No assessments should take place if any person in the property is showing symptoms, self-isolating or being shielded.
Evidence of Identity requirements
Practice guide 67A has introduced temporary changes to the Land Registry requirements relating to evidence of identity. In addition to conveyancers and chartered legal executives, verification can now be undertaken by people who work, or have worked, in certain professions including:
- Retired conveyancers, chartered legal executives, solicitors and barristers
- Bank officials and regulated financial advisers
- Medical doctors, dentists and veterinary surgeons
- Chartered and certified accountants
- Police officers and officers in the UK armed forces
- Teachers and college and university teaching staff
- Members of Parliament and Welsh Assembly members
- UK civil servants of senior executive officer (SEO) grade or above
The verification can also be done by way of a video call.
Practice Guide 8 has been updated to confirm that Land Registry will accept deeds that have been signed using the ‘Mercury signing approach’. This approach arises from the decision in R (on the application of Mercury Tax Group and another) v HMRC  EWHC 2721. This means that, for land registration purposes:
- A signature page will need to be signed in pen and witnessed in person (not by a video call).
- The signature will then need to be captured, with a scanner or a camera, to produce a PDF, JPEG or other suitable copy of the signed signature page.
- Each party sends a single email to their conveyancer to which is attached the final agreed copy of the document and the copy of the signed signature page.
The Law Society has also published this note of its position on the use of virtual execution and e-signatures during the pandemic. The note includes tips on how to operate in practice.