Liam Mulholland, a Trainee Solicitor, considers the Government’s announced plans to move towards digital ID verification and why this could prove problematic for some…
“The dream of a totally paperless office may still be a few years away yet, though when it comes to our personal lives it appears we are winning the race. With the help of smartphones and tablets, payslips, energy/utility bills and council tax documents are now accessible online, and for some this is the only way of viewing them. The issue then turns to, what if you cannot print them out in physical form and you do not have a driving licence or passport?
The current method of ID verification requires a client to physically attend a solicitor’s practice along with several documents to be copied and officially certified. Examples of acceptable ID include passports, UK driving licence, bank statements and utility bills. However, firms are presently not allowed to accept electronic forms of evidence such as emails, which is a problem if such evidence is only accessible through an online portal.
As of the 1st September 2020, the Government has announced plans to update the law surrounding ID verification1, with a move towards using digital or electronic methods instead. Such a change may help to eliminate the need for clients to attend firms altogether and help those who no longer keep physical versions of important documents.
As well as assisting clients when giving valid ID, such a system may also help to speed up and simplify the conveyancing process that little bit more. COVID-19 has also impacted the way in which the services sector operates, with more staff working from home. Having a central government system may help those staff who remain at home, by allowing them to perform checks on clients without being in the office.
While the benefits being proposed by the Government will go towards improving systems which were created in the pre-online era, there are still important questions that need to be answered before any system is rolled out nationally. Questions such as data security, transparency and accuracy need to be scrutinised by those professional bodies who intended to incorporate any new system.
For the time being, the need for a client to visit a solicitor to prove their identity remains the only accepted method of verification. It is therefore important to ensure clients are given clear and correct advice prior to any appointment to prevent any possible delays.”
1 ‘Digital Identity: Call for Evidence Response’ (GOV.UK, 1st September 2020) “www.gov.uk/government/consultations/digital-identity/outcome/digital-identity-call-for-evidence-response“ accessed 3rd September 2020