The new Data Protection and Digital Information Bill will be a dramatic step forward for our industry. Announced in the King’s Speech, the Bill’s proposed reforms look set to introduce much-needed measures to help speed up property-buying, for industry professionals and customers alike.
We have long been calling for measures to help fix our fundamentally flawed housing market. We established the Open Property Data Association (OPDA) earlier this year, with companies across our industry, to help make the process of accessing data simpler and quicker.
However, we have been working with different government departments for over two years to highlight the need for open data, so it was very welcome to see some of what we have been calling for in the King’s Speech.
The right time for change
Reforms can’t come too soon.
Research done by TPXimpact found that currently 40 per cent of potential housing transactions fall through before a buying conveyancer has been appointed. It revealed a common complaint – a lack of detailed property information before making an offer is a critical, unmet consumer need that causes fall throughs.
As a trade association whose objective is to transform the way the industry uses data to buy and sell houses, we know that open data standards are essential for making informed decisions about property.
Clearly, giving consumers better information before making an offer will reduce the shockingly high level of failed transactions.
The only way more open data is going to happen at scale is for the government to endorse and appropriately support wider industry efforts to make data open and interoperable across the home buying and selling system. We have been asking government offices to take direct action to accelerate efforts to digitalise and open data across government.
The Bill shows the government is listening.
What the Bill does
The Bill sets out to create a new UK data rights regime, while taking tangible steps to harness the benefits of secure data use for everyone through innovation and technology. It establishes a framework for secure digital verification services which will facilitate smoother, transparent online transactions, and enable individuals to prove things about themselves digitally in a secure and trusted way – if they choose to do so.
Specifically, the Bill helps our industry in three ways.
Firstly, it will enable trusted and reusable digital identification across the homebuying and mortgage process. This offers significant benefits, particularly in reducing fraud and creating a better customer experience. More reliable digital identity will alleviate the current, notoriously inefficient, situation where a housebuyer has to provide their ID at least four times. The inefficiencies in the current system actually create errors and enable opportunities for fraud.
Secondly, the Bill introduces a Smart Data scheme. This has several benefits. It will open up private sources of data needed for better information on a property listing. It will also mean customers can use that data after completion to track the efficiency and performance of their home, energy and utilities. They will be able to use their data to get better products and services or even new finance opportunities.
Thirdly, the Bill pushes for better use of data in government. This is good news. We badly need public sources of property data, such as titles, deeds, searches, and planning permissions to be digitised, and made more transparent for everyone in the industry, and consumers.
It’s just the beginning
All these reforms will give the industry, and our customers access to better, trusted, and more transparent data which can be shared using OPDA’s open and common data and technology standards. This will deliver a modern and fit-for-purpose home buying and mortgage experience for everyone.
What is more, it will save significant amounts of time for everyone involved.
But there is still much work to do which will not be helped by the ousting of Rachel Maclean, our fifteenth housing minister since 2010.
We now need to see if the government with its reshuffled cabinet, really does commit to achieving a new vision for home buying and selling. To work effectively, this should feature the provision of upfront information before offers are made.
This move cannot come soon enough.