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Digital escrow service removes need for lawyer to hold client cash

[Article originally featured in Law Gazette. Authored by 

A digital vault to hold funds in the homebuying process could remove the need for conveyancers to handle large sums if an escrow service which enabled the UK's first fully digital mortgage settlement takes off.

Shieldpay, a payment services provider, says its patented technology protects the buyer and seller in any payment by verifying both, securing funds from the buyer and releasing them to the seller only when both sides agree they are happy. 

The Council for Licensed Conveyancers, a specialist property regulator, approached Premier Property Services to act for the buyer in the landmark sale.

Rob Gurney, head of legal practice at Premier Property Services, says the escrow facility effectively cuts lawyers out of the financial transaction. The buyer, seller and their solicitors can access Shieldpay's portal. On completion, the money merely moves from the ownership of the buyer to the ownership of the seller. Shieldpay remits the funds to the seller, rather than the seller's lawyer.

Gurney acknowledges that some conveyancers will be concerned that a significant element of their job will be removed. However, he says the benefits outweigh the detriments.

The CLC says the purchase 'marks a milestone' for the sector, which is increasingly working with FinTech companies to speed up the conveyancing process. Last month HM Land Registry announced that the first digital mortgage had been entered into the Land Register.

Research conducted for the Solicitors Regulation Authority on clients' conveyancing experiences suggested that the appetite for digital transactions 'isn't universal'.