What next for digital identity standards?

It has been over three years since HMLR introduced Safe Harbour, which provided conveyancers and landlords with a digital identity standard to protect them from property fraud. Many conveyancers have widely adopted the standard, but why have we yet to see a similar scheme for the entire homebuying chain?

Despite the Government’s efforts to drive compliance within the market, including the publication of Good Practice Guide 45 (GPG 45), which sets out how to verify someone’s identity confidently, many still need clarification on what they should be doing.

For already overstretched property professionals, navigating the extensive guide and it’s new concepts like document strengths and level of confidence is another burden they can do without.

Plenty has been achieved since the introduction of Safe Harbour. Eighteen months ago, the first cohort of Identity Service Providers (IDSP) was certified against the UK Government’s Digital Identity and Attributes Trust Framework (DIATF), which assesses whether an IDSP can verify an identity according to the framework’s standards.

The introduction of the framework was a big step forward, and leading industry bodies such as the Conveyancing Association have already recommended using only certified ID service providers, but we are still without a unified or standardised digital identity standard for the property sector.

This could all change with the introduction of The Digital Property Market Steering Group, which brings together the different parties and regulators to help solve the most common problems plaguing the homebuying process, including the need for customers to repeatedly verify their identity.

As part of its roadmap, the steering group aims to see the rapid adoption of digital ID and secure e-signatures. In May, the group should publish its planned activity to increase uptake across the property sector.

We’ve also seen HM Treasury launch a consultation to improve the effectiveness of Money Laundering Regulations. The consultation references electronic IDV and describes how the private sector has previously expressed a desire for the Treasury to clearly set out how electronic IDV can satisfy MLRs. The consultation states:

[..] the Government is considering the value of producing bespoke guidance, explaining how regulated firms can refer to the UK digital identity and attributes trust framework, in relation to fulfilling their regulatory obligations under the MLRs. This guidance would clarify how the combined use of the trust framework, as a document of rules, standards and other requirements that apply to the whole economy, and GPG45 can facilitate reliable customer identity verification as required by the MLRs

The technology for standardised, reusable digital ID is certainly there, and the various stakeholders involved are all in favour of it. It’s very important that we keep the property market secure from both fraud / financial crime and robust ID checks area key way to achieve but we also need make accessibility a key aspect of any future standard. For example, not everyone has a passport, and we shouldn’t disadvantage those who don’t and treat everyone as suspects.

A single digital identity standard for all UK industries may not be feasible or even the best approach, as different markets come with different risks, and therefore, standards need to reflect this. Any future standardisation will need to involve a combination of regulatory, technological, and societal advancements aimed at enhancing security, privacy, and convenience in digital interactions while ensuring the protection of individuals’ rights and identities.

By Tim Barnett, CEO of Credas. First published on Today’s Conveyancer.