Why commercial law firms risk getting left behind as AP1 deadline approaches

15th August 2022

Andy Sommerville, Search Acumen Director, has written an article on why commercial law firms risk getting left behind as AP1 deadline approaches

The submission of AP1 applications online has become the latest marker in the sand for industry digitisation. In fact, HM Land Registry’s (HMLR) hard switch to digital AP1 submissions forms part of a wider three-year digitisation road map to be published later this year. Just as we watched tax go digital, property is finally catching up.

However, for solicitors and Knowledge Lawyers in this space, navigating the new digital landscape has a ticking timer. By the end of November 2022, HMLR will cease to accept scanned or PDF copies of AP1 forms when changing the ownership of a property; a pivotal move towards a fully digitised property transaction process.

Search Acumen recently hosted an industry roundtable event for several leading law firms to discuss the challenges that lie ahead. Official data suggests that one in five HMLR customers are still contemplating how they will adapt to the changing format, while one in ten remain unaware of the fast-approaching deadline.

This is a dusty path for many who risk getting left behind and losing their own competitive edge. Leaving it to the wire could mean a time lag in getting teams trained, a gap in understanding resource and systems required, and missing out on increased productivity. Time saved allows for better planning and undertaking more profitable activities overall.

The digital revolution is here

Without a doubt, the switch to a digital system will result in fewer requisitions and automatic fees calculations, as well as significantly reducing errors along the way. Property transactions are evolving towards a faster, reliable, and more robust system; the sooner you switch, the sooner you can free up time for better use.

But the AP1 process remains one that using a third-party provider to digitise the whole process under one platform can amplify the time savings and deliver dozens, if not hundreds, of practical incremental gains that will add up over time: not least, leaving you with fewer logins to remember.

For example, our management software is designed to integrate all of your conveyancing tasks into one single system, from onboarding to post-completion. By streamlining your workflow digitally onto an integrated platform, it allows your team to unlock the potential of automation and intelligent data as well.

Essential tasks like identity verification can now take just 15 minutes to complete instead of one week, plugging into larger pools of data in a significantly shorter amount of time. AP1s are pre-populated with up to 90% of case information, with a direct connection to a HMLR case worker.

This integration of machine and human expertise is important to grasp: by bringing in outside help, you can not only gain access to simple technology solutions but the expertise of the team behind them, who can help to plug gaps in your firm’s internal skillsets while staying at the forefront of emerging innovations in the tech space. It’s about more than systems access; service excellence and forward-thinking strategies are every bit as important.

Why a hard deadline for digitisation of AP1s?

The pandemic will go down in history for so many reasons – a truly tragic and challenging period for us all. But just like wartime, what it has done is accelerate change and prompt many people to re-evaluate the status quo. In the twenty-first century this means technology, where working remotely pushed us all to adopt a digital-first approach in both work and play.

Many people now find themselves in a hybrid working pattern, where removing legacy services has been permanently replaced with digital solutions. HMLR, like many of us, seized this moment to accelerate change. And the benefits to us all are crystal clear; removing labour-intensive processes so simple updates can be done in an instant.

HMLR have said that commercial leasing is the last sector to make the digital switch for AP1s, meaning by the autumn the digital registration service will be a complete replacement. Search Acumen’s technology platform has already submitted over 750,000 AP1 applications, and was the first system in the industry to facilitate paperless transactions from start to finish.

Get on the front foot now

Many solicitors find themselves at a crucial point reviewing providers and realising there is no easy fix to transactional complexities, especially in the commercial space. Base line training might be already done, but what is the next step?

To get on the front foot of AP1 digitisation, firms need to take an all-in approach. If everyone in the firm uses the same digital processes now, it will reduce the backlog later: the more people that don’t switch, the slower the process is. To get to a place of online standardisation by November, acting now will undoubtedly avoid future pain points.

What about those incredibly complicated transactions that have taken months of time already? Well, one of the huge advantages of Land Registry going digital means more automation and therefore freeing up more time of senior case workers who can help chivvy those harder cases along.

What happens to ongoing requisitions and outstanding applications after November 30th?

Search Acumen is onboarding around four new firms a week and seeing the adopter curve line go steadily up. However, there will be some who won’t make it in time for numerous reasons.

We’re already preparing a specialist team for late starters in September and October who require more intensive training ahead of the deadline, however the system is simple to use, and many are finding that they are able to start without the need for training. In addition, our platform can be signed up without a contract as we are confident firms will like what they try, giving you full flexibility and choice.

A recent HMLR survey found that 70% of firms had a plan in place for the transition, however 30% were likely to leave it to the wire. In our business gateway agreement, the migration pack helps soothe any concerns about when the tap is turned off, meaning records and cases won’t ever be lost.

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