Aerial view of a housing estate

HM Land Registry: Delivering a modern Land Register

HM Land Registry is a non-ministerial department that safeguards land and property ownership valued at £8 trillion, ensuring that land and property rights in England and Wales are guaranteed and protected. It aims to become the world’s leading land registry for speed and simplicity, with an open approach to data.

With its ambitious digital transformation programme underway, HM Land Registry engaged Scott Logic as a high-quality, UK-based delivery partner. We were commissioned to share responsibility for the planning and delivery of a range of projects, complementing and extending HM Land Registry’s capabilities by providing multidisciplinary teams of consultants.

HM Land Registry manages the Land Register and allows its customers to apply to update it – for example, to record a house purchase or mortgage lending secured against a property. Citizens can also search its contents for free. Historically, updates to the register had been labour-intensive and ‘analogue’, with customers submitting forms and deed documents.

Significant potential had been identified for digitising applications and automating processes, particularly in relation to common types of updates. HM Land Registry had a clear vision for what it wanted to achieve in the digital transformation of the Land Register, and we were tasked with supporting its teams to refine the requirements and realise that vision.

HM Land Registry logo

Streamlining customer experiences

In the main, the customers that apply to update the Land Register are conveyancing companies working on behalf of house buyers or mortgage lenders. The Digital Registration Service (DRS) is designed to enable conveyancers to submit individual applications to update the Land Register in digital form.

To replace the document-based legacy system, the system was reconceived the application process as a user-friendly journey through a highly structured sequence of web forms. A central aim of this new approach was to support the customer in providing more accurate data – both through improved user interface design and through building data validation into each stage of the journey.

Working to the GOV.UK Service Standard and designs created in collaboration by our designers and HM Land Registry’s UX team, our engineers extended the DRS interfaces using a Python Flask frontend and Java backend. The enhanced interfaces complied with WCAG accessibility standards and the GOV.UK Design System. Throughout, care was taken to streamline different aspects of the customer experience – for example, our developers ensured that any data already held was surfaced to avoid customers needing to re-key data. 

For larger conveyancing companies, the Business Gateway allows their computer systems to interact electronically with HM Land Registry via Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Many of the existing APIs used dated protocols from legacy technologies, so we delivered new modern REST APIs built on a current tech stack.

Increasing caseworker productivity

A significant proportion of HM Land Registry staff are involved in the processing of applications to update the Register – a time-consuming and labour-intensive task before the digital transformation programme began. Collaborating closely with HM Land Registry’s product managers and many others, we helped build the roadmaps of improvements to the systems used to submit and process applications. 

We then supported HM Land Registry to understand what it would take to deliver the desired outcomes, and our teams worked incrementally through the updates alongside their HM Land Registry colleagues. Each new improvement helped to boost caseworker productivity. For example, the data validation that was built into each stage of the DRS user journey lessened the workload of caseworkers by reducing the volume of enquiries back to customers.

Caseworkers also benefited from an updated user interface on the system they used to process applications. HM Land Registry had already proved the benefits of a system that presented to the user only the remaining tasks to be done. However, there were significant opportunities to streamline this further by removing some manual steps and, crucially, fixing numerous usability and accessibility issues.

In carrying out this work, our team made enhancements to streamline the user experience further, meeting the same usability and accessibility standards as the DRS improvements. Our engineers also found opportunities to automate some common checks, contributing to the programme’s wider automation goals.

Delivering enhanced process automation

Scott Logic led the design and delivery of significant extensions to partially automated processes, and fully automated some common customer requests. The foundations of this automation work were systems capable of storing the richer data being captured; our work applied automation to the enrichment, routing and processing of that data.

Although automation can bring significant productivity gains, it also introduces risks including exposure to malicious attacks and impacts on data quality. Naturally, the integrity of the Register is of paramount importance to HM Land Registry. So from the start, our architects and engineers worked with HM Land Registry’s security architects and specialist security testers to deliver systems and automated processes that would meet its rigorous testing, assurance and release requirements.

Our engineers enhanced numerous automated processes so that updates to the Land Register could be performed with reduced caseworker involvement. These included:

  • allowing the modern part-automated processing systems to handle customer requests requiring multiple updates to the Register;
  • work to allow the processing of a request to be paused automatically while awaiting further information from customers; and
  • the delivery of new software components to automate the importing of details of property sales into the UK House Price Index dataset.

Men and women working at computers

Some Land Register processes were suited to full automation. One of the highest-volume updates to the Register is the recording of new mortgage lending. HM Land Registry identified that professional customers could self-certify the accuracy of the mortgage data in their application, as long as the subsequent processing of that data included appropriate assurance checks.

Our engineers designed the process accordingly and delivered the Register’s first fully automated process in relation to mortgage lending; this new feature is currently being tested through a private Beta. Our teams have fully automated further processes since then, including the processing of lender notifications that mortgages have been paid off.

Where a customer order could be fully processed within the new systems, there was a 40–60% efficiency improvement in processing register updates through Application Processing – with fully automated orders completely skipping caseworkers. As HM Land Registry progresses its digital transformation, our team is supporting it in identifying further opportunities for process automation.

Continuing the transformation journey

Row of terraced houses on a sunny day

Scott Logic’s support for HM Land Registry’s digital strategy continues. Our engineers are helping HM Land Registry to deliver frequent new releases of DRS, and its supporting application processing tools, in line with the roadmap of system improvements. Our architects are contributing to the Discovery phase of work to enhance the validation of customer orders and to help them understand up-front what’s required of them.

Importantly, we’re progressively supporting HM Land Registry to maintain what we have delivered after we’ve departed. We’ve enhanced the documentation on HM Land Registry’s systems so that they provide accessible primers for engineers across the organisation. We’ve provided robust handovers of completed work to HM Land Registry’s teams, including thorough knowledge transfer sessions and documentation. Through parallel work streams, we have supported HM Land Registry to optimise its agile delivery processes, and to enable technical delivery efficiencies and reduce technical debt.

All of our work for the HM Land Registry has been in line with its transformation roadmap. While we’ve been supporting the delivery of a new Land Register, we’ve also been supporting HM Land Registry to plan the future steps along a multi-year roadmap to achieve its ambitious vision.