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Proving Your Identity is Beneficial for You and Your Solicitor

View profile for Catriona Wheeler
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Do you get annoyed when you’re asked to prove who you are when opening a new bank account or instructing a solicitor? Yes, the process can sometimes be long and laborious, but it happens to be a very important part of protecting you and your solicitor, particularly when selling a house or a plot of land. 

In the legal world, asking someone to prove their identity is often described as ‘know your client’. This process is often met with some standard replies by clients including – “You’ve been dealing with me and my family for decades, you should know me already!”

Fortunately, in my experience, most people are aware that solicitors and other professionals are required to do so as part of the network of protection regulations which successive Governments have put in place to ensure money is not flowing around as proceeds of crime.

Many may find the concept of being suspected of being hardened criminals slightly ridiculous, but accept the nuisance nonetheless. 
However, most people aren’t aware that solicitors will want to check you are who you say you are for your own protection as much as their own. 
Land started to be registered at the Land Registry in the 1860s. Now, any change of ownership of a property in England and Wales is registered at the Land Registry. 

Some time ago, if you sold your property, your solicitor would hand the buyer's solicitor a Land Certificate which would eventually have your name neatly crossed out and the buyer’s typed below.

How times have changed – the evidence now to show you own a property is recorded in an electronic register kept by the Land Registry, which has brought many advantages to buyers and sellers including:
•    Title information can be downloaded and checked in minutes without the need to be concerned about where the deeds are 
•    If neighbouring land is registered, it can be checked to see if there is any information relevant to your purchase or sale
•    Your solicitor can go online and see what land is registered or unregistered with greater ease 

But with it comes some drawbacks, as one owner of a high-value mews house in London discovered when in September 2014 a fraudster impersonated him and sold his house for over a million pounds.

Fortunately for the owner, the fraud was discovered before the buyer’s name was registered as the new owner after the Land Registry conducted a spot check. The buyer recovered his money after the case went to the Court of Appeal. The court agreed that neither firm of solicitors was negligent in their checks – instead the court decided the solicitors owed duties as trustees of the money used in the purchase.
In that case, because of the Land Registry's spot check, the name on the title did not change. If it had, there would have been ways to rectify it, but if the land was a vacant building or an unbuilt plot, the problem might not have come to light immediately. 

No-one wants the wasted time, worry and expense of being caught up in untangling such a problem, which makes the process of ‘knowing your client’ even more important for you and your solicitor. 

It is far better that everyone is certain from the start that the person who owns the land is the one giving instructions to sell. You may find that you are being asked to give more information about yourself so your solicitors can be satisfied that they know who they are acting for, but remember, it’s intended for your own protection. 

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