E-signing to transform homebuying

Homebuyers can wave goodbye to pen-and-ink signatures with new e-signing option

E-signing could be about to transform homebuying. E-signing of documents has come into its own during the pandemic but there still have been some situations where an electronic signature is not acceptable. However, as the old saying goes necessity is the mother of invention. So today HM Land Registry has announced it is now able to accept electronic signatures for a number of important property transactions.

In another move aimed at boosting the housing market transfers of ownership of property, leases, mortgages and other property dealings can now be signed electronically. The hope is that this will make it simpler and quicker for people to move home.

From today HM Land Registry will accept ‘witnessed electronic signatures’ in place of wet-ink. These make it possible to sign legal documents remotely, although a witness who is present at the time must counter-sign the documents electronically too.

This signals the removal of the last strict requirement to print and sign a paper document in a home buying or other property transaction. This will help homebuyers during the current health emergency while lots of people are working at home, but the Land Registry also sees it as “a keystone of a truly digital, secure and more efficient conveyancing process that we believe is well within reach”. Good news, we think. Especially as the next step is to also look at the possibility of using qualified electronic signatures – which won’t require a witness. Instead, this type of E-signature relies on using a ‘Qualified Trust Service Provider’ which will have standards in place to securely verify the identity of the signatory and the Land Registry is already exploring their introduction as soon as it becomes practical to do so.

At Ringley we’ve been using E-signing for a wide range of documents for some time. This technology has certainly made life easier for both our staff and our customers during the last few months, so we welcome today’s announcement. It should bring conveyancing firmly into the 21st century. We are also pleased to hear that work is also going on to improve security around E-signing.  The Government is exploring whether the digital identity checking technology used in other sectors could also be used in the conveyancing industry to increase resilience against fraud and improve the ease of buying and selling. If they get this right, we think this is good news all round for homebuyers, vendors and their property and legal advisers. What do you think?

Click here to read the new practice guidance for conveyancers on how to use electronic signatures.

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Will Fire Safety Bill leave leaseholders out of pocket – again?

Does the new Fire Safety Bill go far enough or will it leave leaseholders in the lurch?

There are far too few fire safety inspectors planned under proposals set out in the Fire Safety Bill and too little funding being put forward by the Government. This is the view of the Fire Brigades Union, which has slammed the government for what it says is a “gross underestimate” of the resources that are needed to tackle building safety in England. The Union estimates that three years after the Grenfell Tower fire, more than 50,000 homeowners are still living in unsafe blocks and the new legislation, now going through parliament, will do little to help.

The Fire Safety Bill announced in March, gives additional responsibilities to the fire service to inspect and enforce fire safety in the common parts of residential blocks. This includes the building structure and external walls, stairwells, and doors between individual flats. The government’s maximum estimated spend to cover the cost of these inspections is £2.1m. But the FBU told Landlord Today that this would pay for just 35 inspectors – less than one per brigade in England.

Clearly, these numbers are woefully inadequate. However, as Ringley Group MD Mary-Anne Bowring points out, the Hackitt Review did suggest that the Joint Competent Authority to be set up to oversee safety in new and existing buildings over 10 stories should be self-funding; no government money would be required. However, the more likely scenario is a little different.

What we fear is that ultimately, as with the EWS1 form compliance and fire risk assessment and remediation works on blocks below 18 metres, as well as the compartmentation testing that is now becoming standard – the cost will be an additional burden on leaseholders, who will yet again be left to foot the bill.

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too:

Coronavirus: working safely with contractors and on-site staff

Anyone visiting your building to carry out maintenance must be able to wash their hands. Landlords can help.

Our clients and RMC directors may be wondering what they should do about people visiting their sites while we are all coping with the impact of COVID-19. So here‘s our latest update on working with on-site staff and contractors.

The current advice from the HSE is that: “All drivers attending site must have access to welfare facilities in the premises they visit as part of their work.  Preventing access is against the law and, equally, it is not the sensible thing to do.  Failure to allow access to welfare facilities may increase the risk of the COVID-19 infection spreading.”

It is not clear whether contractors are classed in the same category as drivers – however, we are beginning to receive requests for confirmation from maintenance engineers that there are hand washing facilities on site.  Where there are not, landlords should think about either nominating a home where contractors can wash up – and putting a notice up in the hallway to say so, or purchasing and installing something like this 

Site Staff will remain on site until the Government declares lockdown – at which point a further review will be carried out.  Employers have a duty under health and safety legislation to take steps to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all their employees, so far as reasonably practicable, including those who are particularly at risk for any reason. Employees also have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of people they work with.  So we have sent out specific advice to site staff. 

Should your site staff get sick, then by virtue of The Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020, which came into force on 13 March 2020 ( for a period of 8 months) anyone who self-isolates to prevent infection or contamination with coronavirus and is unable to work will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay.  A medical certificate is no longer required and SSP now starts from day one, rather than day four.

Should the Government prevent staff from working on-site, this would be treated as a period of lay-off during which your employee would be entitled to a statutory guaranteed payment of £25 a day (pro-rata for part-time workers).  Unless the Government changes the law, your employees can claim a redundancy payment if the lay-off or short-time working runs for either 4+ weeks in a row, or 6+ weeks in a 13 week period.  This does not get paid if staff return to normal working hours within 4 months.  Click here for more on this.

Depending on other measures likely to be introduced, it may be kinder to ascertain the person’s rent or mortgage payments and pay them rent and a food allowance as a gesture for their service to the site.  If you need help or advice on this, emergency HR planning and payment enquiries are being dealt with by Leana leana@ringley.co.uk

In the meantime, all routine servicing schedules are continuing, as is our 24/7 emergency response.

CMA will act on leasehold mis-selling

Bad practice in the leasehold market is old news for anyone living or working in the sector. So today’s announcement that the findings of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) probe into the industry will lead to “enforcement action” is cause for optimism.

In case you missed the launch of the CMA investigation into leasehold mis-selling in June last year, here’s what the authority has been looking into:

  • Ground rents: homeowners having to pay escalating ground rents, which in some cases can double every 10 years. This increase is often built into contracts, meaning people can often struggle to sell their homes and find themselves trapped.
  • Cost of the freehold: the CMA has seen evidence that people have been misled about the cost of converting their leasehold to freehold ownership.
  • Misleading information: not being told upfront that a property is leasehold and what that means. By the time people find out the realities of owning a leasehold home, including the regular charges to be paid, they are often unable to pull out of the purchase, or would face significant difficulties if they tried to do so.
  • Unreasonable fees: being charged excessive and disproportionate fees for maintenance of shared spaces or making home improvements. Challenging such charges is often difficult and costly.

Having asked a wide range of industry stakeholders for information, the CMA found “worrying evidence” that leaseholders are being “misled and taken advantage of”.

So the CMA is taking action. It will launch direct enforcement proceedings against companies that flout consumer protection law. This could mean firms signing legal commitments to change how they do business and facing legal action if they don’t.

Long term, even better news is that the CMA supports the case for changes to the law that frames leasehold.  Of course, legal reform takes time – too long to help people who are already trapped in homes they can’t afford or sell due to ongoing issues around ground rent, or facing huge charges to buy their freehold.

In the meantime, the CMA is developing consumer advice for existing and potential leaseholders. This will offer tips on what they can do when faced with permission fees and service charges they consider unjustified. Leasehold is complex and involves charges that buyers don’t always understand or even know about – and which are too often quickly passed over by developers and agents keen to make a sale. This has to stop. Let’s hope the CMA’s action helps.

Government announces New Homes Ombudsman

Swift action can now be taken if homebuyers find their new flat is badly built

The Government has announced a new, independent Ombudsman for homebuyers faced with shoddy building work in their new homes. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick confirmed yesterday that the New Homes Ombudsman will be independent and enforced in law as soon as possible to protect homebuyers from rogue developers. Under the new rules, builders will have to pay compensation for poor workmanship. All housebuilders will have to join the Ombudsman and must put quality first if they want to sell homes under the Help to Buy scheme.

The Ombudsman will step in to help homebuyers with issues from sloppy brickwork to faulty wiring. It will have statutory powers to award compensation, ban rogue developers from building, and order developers to fix poor building work.

Where people are in dispute with developers, the new Ombudsman will act swiftly and independently to resolve any issues – ending the nightmare of people facing long waits and costly court cases trying to sort out problems with their new homes.

At the moment, anyone buying a new build home has no independent way of challenging developers’ service or poor workmanship. They only have their NHBC certificate to fall back on and this doesn’t always produce the right result.

The aim is for the New Homes Ombudsman to have the ability to act fast, so that new build issues are dealt with swiftly and effectively. It will be able to:

  • make awards for compensation to homebuyers
  • request developers undertake or refrain from undertaking work
  • direct developers to improve their service
  • publish details and reasons for expulsion of a developer
  • make recommendations to resolve disputes and timescales for rectifying disputes
  • request apologies and explanations from developers.

Today’s news is very welcome. Having access to proper redress should give homebuyers more confidence that their home is built to the quality they expect. Too many new builds throw up problems once owners have moved in and getting things put right can be a long and stressful process. Now, a clear complaints process that can be used when things go wrong, including alternative dispute resolution, should speed things up and keep homeowners out of court. The service will also be free to use – and that’s always good news!

Combustible cladding: the nightmare continues…

Many buyers are having their mortgage applications refused – and this is now hitting low-rise as well as high-rise blocks.

New housing minister Christopher Pincher tweeted last Thursday, as his appointment was announced, that he was “delighted” to be taking up his new position in government. He was immediately inundated with messages from flat owners and campaign groups struggling to deal with unresolved cladding issues.

A blog post from the new minister in 2017 in response to the Grenfell tower tragedy seems to suggest that he is well versed in the issues surrounding dangerous cladding. However, as Ringley Group MD Mary-Anne Bowring explains, now it’s not just cladding that is in the spotlight. “We find out three years on from Grenfell that the External Wall System (EWS1) form requires us to understand the full system of the cladding, i.e. the cladding, the brackets, the fixing, the insulation behind the walls, etc,” she says.

Piling on more pain, yesterday the press reported on the fact that lenders are now refusing mortgages on flats in blocks below 18 metres. Last month Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced fire safety changes, including a consolidation of the fire safety advice into one advice note which states “building owners need to assess and manage the risk of external fire spread… [in] buildings of any height”.

Speaking in Parliament, he emphasised the fact that “there hadn’t been enough focus amongst building owners on buildings below 18 metres” and that “more action is needed to review these risks”. Lenders have picked up on this statement fast and flat owners are now feeling the effect.

It’s no surprise that lenders are protecting their own interests. After all, they are being asked to lend money against potentially dangerous homes that may not be fit for purpose. However, that is no comfort to the many flat owners around the country who can’t move, or to those who cannot afford a house and for whom buying a flat is the only option.

Our message to Christopher Pincher is to step up to the plate and tackle the problem head-on. More money must be found by the government to get blocks moving on rapid remediation. There are more than 4 million households living in flats around the country. If transactions continue to be log-jammed by issues around cladding, it won’t take long before the impact ripples out across the wider housing market, creating a whole new crisis to be dealt with.

Is your block being blighted by the EWS1 form?

Post-Grenfell, leaseholders who wish to sell flats in blocks with cladding are facing a whole new range of obstacles

The fall-out from Grenfell is now affecting buildings without combustible cladding.  Despite Ringley and many other managing agents rushing to get cladding removed and buildings tested for free when the BRE were offering this service, blocks without combustible cladding are now also being impacted by lenders’ in fear of building failure. As the BBC reported on Saturday, many flat owners in blocks around the country are finding themselves rendered powerless to get a mortgage as a result of the use of the EWS1 form.

The form is the outcome of new mortgage lender regulations post-Grenfell. The EWS1 form requires a “qualified professional” to carry out a fire-risk assessment and to either confirm there are no combustible materials present at the building or to recommend remedial works. This requirement is thwarting sales of properties in buildings over 6 stories, if a signed form cannot be provided.  Remortgages are being denied.  And, more cruelly still, lenders are increasing borrowers’ mortgage interest rates until an EWS1 is provided.

The major challenge for any engineer or property professional is that, as we all know, more often than you would expect what is specified and what is actually used in the construction of a building, may be quite different.  Not only are there lookalike materials and copycat imports out there but to the unwitting novice, or the person who puts profit over safety, there are materials from the same manufacturer that essentially look the same but have different fire class ratings and will perform differently in a fire.

What has changed most since Grenfell is that the focus is now on the ‘total building system’ not just the cladding.  Yes, the cladding is still important, but no professional will sign an EWS1 form without knowing the combustibility of the insulation behind the cladding or even the combustibility of the glue and/or fixing compounds.

What this means is that we are now into a whole new testing regime.  While the Hackett Review was limited to HRRBs (high rise residential buildings) many recommendations were framed as advisable for all buildings.  And this is what, in part, the mortgage lending industry has done with the EWS1 form.

Developers are shying away from signing these forms, which is a shame as they ought to know or take responsibility for what they have built –  although, arguably, perhaps the certification is safer if compiled independently of them.  Freeholders are leaving it up to Resident Management Companies to arrange tests. And product-testing houses have waiting lists and long delays to get samples taken and tested. 

In the meantime the innocent leaseholder suffers twice.  First, flat owners are being hit by higher interest rates from their lender and second, they are now faced with increased service charge costs as the testing and a new fire risk assessment rarely leaves change from say £5,000.  At the very least the government could outlaw the first of these pain points.  And when it comes to the second, we strongly believe the cost of investigating building construction and determining how dangerous it is, should fall to the freeholder. 

As is the norm, coping with the emotion, urgency and desperation now being experienced by leaseholders falls to the managing agent, as we try to coordinate testing and help innocent homeowners make sense of it all.

Who pays for safer blocks?

Our homes should be safe as houses – but who pays?

 It may be the start of a new year, but the same old arguments are being fought over building safety – and who should foot the bill.

Last week Wandsworth Council’s bid to force leaseholders in high rise blocks to pay for retrofitting sprinklers was rejected by a tribunal. If the ruling had gone Wandsworth’s way, the council could have entered flats regardless of leaseholders’ wishes and allowed the local authority to recoup some of the costs via the service charge. Inside Housing estimates the cost to residents at £3,000 – £4,000 over four years.

 Similarly, London housing association Network Homes has warned their 4,000 leaseholders face having to pay a share of £200M of improvement works to bring their homes up to a safe standard, unless the government brings forward funding to meet the costs. The HA has already spent around £2M in investigations and interim measures to keep residents safe but told The Times yesterday that it can’t take “blanket responsibility” for costs that are legally payable by the leaseholders.

An article published in December by the Institute of Residential Property Management (IRPM) points to the possibility, for residents in new build blocks, of claiming for remedial works via the Building Warranty, which commonly runs for 10 years after completion. However, those living in older blocks don’t have that option to fall back on and may find themselves obliged to stump up the money for improvement works, whether they can afford it or not if the building owner either cannot be identified or made to pay. In fact, even for newer blocks the warranty is often subject to an excess of £850 – £1000 per unit, which means tens of thousands of pounds would fall to the owner under this route anyway.

This situation is untenable. The complexities of leasehold mean that it is often difficult to lay the responsibility for upgrading buildings at the original owner’s door. While the government is keen to demonstrate its commitment to ‘left behind’ communities in deprived areas of the country, it would do well to consider the 5M plus households living in leasehold homes who constitute a community in their own right. They do not deserve to be ignored.

Don’t panic! Ringley can help!

Download our booklet today – it could save you and your residents a lot of time and money!

Everyone faces a problem in their flat from time to time. Generally, these issues are minor and easily dealt with. But what about emergencies like water pouring through the ceiling from the flat upstairs, the central heating breaking down in the middle of winter, or a sudden infestation of flies or mice? Would your residents know what to do?

To make sure building managers can give leaseholders all the information they need – and hopefully avoid having to get out of bed at 2.00am to find a stopcock – Ringley has produced an easy-to-read guide that can be downloaded here. It’s designed to give you peace of mind that you have all the bases covered – and so do your residents.

Our Emergency Booklet is really comprehensive. It tackles everything from gas and roof leaks to finding someone sleeping the hallway. It explains clearly which emergencies can be dealt with by Ringley and which issues must be dealt with by residents themselves. It details when to call Ringley’s 24-hour emergency line (and includes the telephone number) and explains when to call the plumber, the local authority or the police instead. Gas and electricity problems – probably the most common issues we deal with – are discussed in detail and contact numbers provided.

Individual situations are clearly explained and the booklet lists what is and what isn’t an emergency. A blown light bulb is rarely life-threatening. It is important that residents realise this and don’t waste time and money on problems that can easily wait a few hours.

Our booklet also sets out clearly another important point that is often misunderstood. The service charges that residents pay are not for spending on work inside theirs or other people’s properties. Leases require the owner to maintain and repair what’s inside their property.  That includes contents, carpets, fixtures and fittings, pipes and wires.  These cannot be repaired/replaced/maintained using service charges.

We recommend that you download the booklet today and make sure all your residents have a copy. It could save a lot of time, reduce costly call-outs – and give managers fewer sleepless nights!

New year, brand new services!

Welcome back to the Ringley Blog after what, we hope, was a happy and relaxing Christmas break. We now have a new year and a new decade to look forward to and we will continue to share thought leadership and new developments at Ringley with you in the months ahead.

First, we’d like to blow our own trumpet and let you know about a few changes we’ve made in response to our customers’ requests.

Top of our customers’ wish list in 2019 was the ability to e-sign on budgets and cover letters so that you can incorporate things you might want to add. This is now standard practice and your feedback shows it’s proving popular. You’re now telling us that this is leading to more interaction around budgets as directors nudge each other to sign them off. In fact, every customer budget that was e-signed in time has now gone out

You also told us that to make direct debits easier to understand, customers want to see the ACTUAL CALCULATION that we use to decide what needs to be collected in charges each month.  So we created a secure page and put customers in control by opening this all up for you to see.

We’ve also been working with clients on a number of sites to help stop AirBNB style lettings.  So if you are troubled by problem short-term lettings on your estate, simply email support-team@ringleylaw.co.uk  and we will do our best to help.

While our job is to manage your buildings, what really matters most is the people who live in them.  We realise that for many of our customers we are almost the fourth emergency service. Our role often includes signposting on issues that may be outside our control, but we can often direct you to the right person to solve the problem.  So in one of our internal workshops our people supported re-orienting what we call ourselves to “Relationship Managers” and “Relationship Assistants”. We hope this will really help underline that all our staff at Ringley are always here to help you in any way we can.

Here’s some more good news to start the year. We are delighted to report that in 2019 we achieved a new record low in service charge arrears. This means we have plenty of funds to pay contractors, ensuring they are happy to attend to your next emergency. 

And finally, on the subject of emergencies, in tomorrow’s blog we will be sharing a new booklet with you that we’ve just produced for residents. This means that should the worst happen, they will always know exactly what to do and who to contact across a whole range of nasty situations from water leaks to mice!