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It takes two to tango

21 August 06

The countdown to automated registration of title to land (ARTL) is on schedule and the necessary rules are in the pipeline

by James Ness


At the time of drafting this article I am faced this very evening with the prospect of salsa lessons, my partner having become exasperated at my two left feet. The title of this piece is not however totally irrelevant, as you will discover later. Despite the fact that I was brought up on a diet of technology, the way that I am unreasonably intimidated at the prospect of dancing does give me some idea of the trepidation which some members feel when faced not just with change but with dramatic and technological change. I hope that this evening I discover that in dancing as with technology, the reality is nothing like as daunting as the prospect.

All members will have received the circular giving formal notice of the proposed “ARTL Mandate Rules” which will be discussed at the Special General Meeting in September. As I previously mentioned, it is quite gratifying to see a single and, dare I say it simple, rule arrive out of such a substantial change in the way conveyancing is carried out. There is little doubt that one or two guidelines and a body of practice notes will be required to assist the profession, and the ARTL Implementation Group in consultation with various other committees within the Society are working on these issues.

It is now expected that the ARTL rollout will start in November with a limited amount of live testing. This will be followed by the release of the system to the profession progressively across all registration counties between late January and the end of April next year. We expect the Keeper to publish further details of the rollout programme during the autumn.

I would commend you to visit the Society’s website where there is an ARTL-dedicated section keeping members up to date on developments and consultations.

There is one additional issue which I have not as yet canvassed in any depth but which is of considerable importance. If only one agent in any given transaction is registered for ARTL the transaction cannot proceed under ARTL. It does indeed take two to tango. It is clearly important that the number of users reaches critical mass quickly. It is surprising however just how many transactions do not actually involve more than one firm – gifts, legacies and security work being obvious examples.

My personal view is that firms which already have well developed and supported IT systems and which are used to structured working will quickly and enthusiastically adopt ARTL, seeing obvious benefits in transaction handling time, repetition of data entry and savings in difficulties with SDLT, the procedures for which will all be built into the ARTL process. I have a feeling that mid-range firms will sign up for ARTL but use it in a tightly controlled environment until they trust its reliability. The endless difficulties with the SDLT online system have a lot to answer for! Some small firms may not sign up at all and I would urge them that that would be an error and that they may well find themselves bypassed by clients once speed and efficiency savings start biting.

There is of course one catch. ARTL has to work well, reliably and intuitively. In other words it has to behave rather differently to the profession’s experience of large government-sponsored IT projects to date. For what it is worth I believe that it will work, it will be reliable and the benefits will be significant for both the profession and the Registers. The reductions in registration fees reflect both those benefits and the Keeper’s confidence in the savings ARTL should bring. I know from discussions with the Keeper’s office that they are considering how best to roll out the ARTL system to solicitors in Scotland, and I believe that the rollout will be structured in such a way that teething problems will probably be removed before the average firm is given access to the system.

In my first article on ARTL (Journal, January, 50) I outlined the timeline for the project and it does indeed seem to be on track as mentioned earlier. At that time I outlined the steps firms should be taking over the coming 12 months and I would repeat these now, pointing out that you probably have less than six months to deal with these issues.

Effectively you have six months to ensure that your PCs meet the basic specification suggested. My personal view is that subject to budget and other issues, ideally you would want each party who is likely to be an active user of ARTL to have:

  •  A broadband internet connection;
  •  A reasonably modern, well specified machine running Windows XP fully updated from the Microsoft Windows website. See the Keeper’s technical note (Journal, January, 52) for the specification of other operating systems;
  •  Anti-virus and firewall protection;
  •  Software including Adobe Acrobat 7 or higher. This is freely available from the Adobe website and widely used;
  • The one item you might actually have to purchase is a smartcard reader, which is likely to cost under £15. The Keeper is testing units and should be able to provide a compatibility list shortly.

For the avoidance of doubt the Keeper intends to provide the smartcard itself and the digital signature free of charge.

Consider which of your staff require ARTL access and at what level. Firms will have to appoint a person responsible for authorising subordinates. There seems little doubt that the firm will be fully responsible for the actions of those authorised by it. Full details of authorisation levels are not yet available, but likely levels are:

  • full access including access to a digital signature;
  • limited access facilitating preparation of documents only.

If you have case management systems you might speak to your supplier to ensure that they will be able to integrate these with ARTL. The ARTL team at the Keeper’s office are happy to advise and consult.

I will report further after the SGM, and once we have had sight of a final version of the Keeper’s proposed terms and conditions and more flesh on the proposed guidelines and practice notes. I would also hope at that time to have information on the Keeper’s proposed training and education programme and the actual rollout proposals. I have a funny feeling that I will never speak of the dancing again!

James Ness is Deputy Director of Professional Practice at the Law Society of Scotland

ARTL: the Registers on the road

A series of roadshows from Lerwick to Dumfries will demonstrate the benefits of the new system

Registers of Scotland plan to make Automated Registration of Title to Land (ARTL) fully available for use by solicitors throughout Scotland by 30 April 2007.

ARTL is a system for electronic generation, communication and automated registration of applications for registration of dealings with whole for properties already registered in the Land Register. This will be one of the most important developments in the registration of heritable property in Scotland since the introduction of Land Registration in 1981. As such, it is important that your firm is aware of the benefits offered by the new system.

Consequently, in association with Law Society of Scotland Update, Registers of Scotland will be running a series of roadshows around the country in September and October. These will be free, will last for two hours and will qualify for CPD. Light refreshments will be provided. At the roadshows Registers of Scotland will explain the background to ARTL and demonstrate a full registration transaction from start to finish, involving a digital disposition, standard security, discharge of standard security and stamp duty land tax certification. There will also be a chance to ask questions about the system.

The locations and dates of the roadshows are:

  • 5 September - Lerwick
  • 6 September - Kirkwall
  • 12 September - Aberdeen
  • 13 September - Dundee
  • 20 September - Stornoway
  • 21 September - Inverness
  • 26 September - Wick
  • 4 October - Glasgow
  • 10 October - St Boswells
  • 12 October - Dumfries
  • 25 October - Edinburgh
  • 31 October - Oban

If members of the profession would like to attend one of these roadshows, an application form is downloadable from the Agency’s website at www.ros.gov.uk/pdfs/artl_faxback.pdf, which can be faxed back to the Customer Relations Team on 0131 479 3688.

Contact: sonja.reid@ros.gov.uk, (t: 0131 200 3943)