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e-signature versus digital signature - not all gobbledegook after all

e-signature versus digital signature - not all gobbledegook after all

At our meeting this month, our very own Alwin Oliver explained and demonstrated the immense savings of time, effort, paper, printing and postage that can be obtained if we use electronic signatures.

But do you understand the difference between e-signature and 'digital signature' - it is important if you are to streamline your operation and reduce costs without introducing risks or problems. So read on for more details..


The full presentation with associated links can be found here in the members area (you need to be a member and sign in to see this specific item)

It is hard to dispute the benefits of being able to send the same document to multiple recipients (gas certificate, right to rent documentation, EPC, etc) and be able to prove it was received with just one simple email. Equally easy to see the advantages of having a single contract signed by multiple tenants (in any order) without the need to get them all in the same place at the same time or to waste time hawking paper from one to the next. Then when you consider the reams of paper we generate every year, especially with HMO"s where it is duplicated for each tenant - contract, right to rent, inventory, deposit documentation, etc) - the prospect of saving ink, paper and time not having to print and staple 60-100 pages of documentation per person is very appealing.

So why would you not do it?  The better question is 'when would you not do it". Alwin alluded to this in his presentation but in case you missed the nuance, let me explain it here in more detail.

  • Electronic Signature can be used to show someone has seen or received a document and confirms receipt and or agreement to its content.
  • Digital Signature can be used to show a SPECIFIC IDENTIFIED PERSON has seen or received a document and confirms receipt and or agreement to its content.

Do you see the difference?  If you know exactly who you are talking to and have an established relationship - as with a tenant who you have referenced and confirmed their email ID, then Electronic Signature is perfect for speeding the flow of documents between you whilst reducing the paper and associated costs and delays.

Digital Signature has the added advantage that it authenticates who you are dealing with - so whilst in Alwin"s demonstration, the contracts were signed by a 'Dr Doolittle", Alwin knew it was actually our chair, Martin Silman as that was the email ID used. So in that case, electronic signature worked fine. But if Alwin had not dealt with Martin Silman before, he could not have been sure who he was talking to when his document was signed - it may have been Dr Doolittle or it could have been anyone else. Alwin would have needed to use Digital Signature to identify the recipient had he not known already that Martin Silman was the person who managed and owned the email ID he had used.

It was mentioned in the meeting that the RLA recommend not to use electronic signature for guarantor paperwork.  There is no legal reason for this - it is legitimate in a court of law. The issue is that if your prospective tenant gives you an email address for their guarantor and you send that ID the guarantor paperwork and someone using that ID signs the paperwork, how do you know it is the guarantor who may have perfectly good references and credit rating as opposed to, say, the tenant pretending to have a creditworthy guarantor but giving a fake email address with which to continue the subterfuge?

Sending guarantor paperwork by post to the guarantor address is not fool proof - but it has a greater chance of being seen by the proposed guarantor than some email address which may or may not be bona fide.

So do use e-signature to reduce your workload and save paper, printing and postage for all formal communications with people you know and have an established email link with but be very careful that you don"t use it prior to that time, as you need to ensure the recipient email is known and confirmed to you - you should start the guarantor paperwork in person or via post and switch to email and e-signature once you have confirmed email communications between you.

You could have course avoid the issues with a digital signature solution, but whereas e-signature can be used by anyone who can send and receive email, your recipient will need to go through several steps if they are to use digital signature with you, so at the moment, in person or post is our recommended way to start - but then switch to e-signature asap thereafter.

Written & oral information and advice from the Portsmouth & District Private Landlord's Association is given in good faith, but no responsibility whatsoever is accepted by the Association or it's officers for the accuracy of it's information & advice nor shall the Association be held responsible for the consequences of reliance upon such information.

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