I refer to the CIB 340 released today announcing the closure of the Settlements Room.
The AICSA supports and commends the Registrar-General and the Government on making this decision in what are unprecedented and rapidly changing circumstances.
Whilst government services remain in situ, non-essential pubic gatherings have been banned by the federal government. As such, the Office of the Registrar-General (ORG) and Land Services SA remain open and functioning, providing key service and product delivery. The Settlements Room does not form part of government services and is a standalone room provided to property settlement parties by the ORG. As such, the Settlements Room is a public gathering spot and not a government service and therefore falls within the government’s definition of a banned meeting place.
At this unusual and extraordinary time, the health and wellbeing of all those attending the Settlements Room and those they subsequently come into to contact with, intentionally or unintentionally, is of paramount concern. It is incumbent on all of us to take responsibility for our own and each others health at this time and do whatever we must to flatten the curve and minimise the spread of COVID19 in a measured and pragmatic approach. To date, the Federal and State Governments’ have managed this well and it is our responsibility as citizens to work together to support them in their endeavours to keep us safe and healthy and to minimise the pressure placed upon our health care system which is significant at this time.
As the AICSA advised in a previous Member Alert, the AICSA has had ongoing concerns around your obligations as employers to employees to ensure as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of your workers and others at your workplace. This includes providing and maintaining a work environment that is without risks to health and safety. The LTO Settlement Room forms part of your workplace and you are responsible for the health and wellbeing of your staff when they attend there. Given this and the need to remain diligent and protect our entire community, the AICSA is supportive of the decision that has been taken.
Members are referred to our most recent podcast that discusses the impact of the virus on the profession and specifically discusses work, health and safety obligations that employers owe their employees.
Clearly the transition to electronic settlement where possible and the management of ongoing paper settlements during the coming weeks of transition will be stressful for all involved. This stress is compounded by the overall anxiety being felt across society as the extraordinary circumstances unfold and our lives change by the day.
At this stage, Drop & Go and Face to Face Lodgement services remain unchanged, however you should continue to closely monitor the situation and respond according to Government and health advice guidelines.
We ask that you look after one another and show patience and understanding whilst people learn new systems, put in place new business procedures and establish options to assist and enable settlements to continue as smoothly as possible. But, it is not going to be smooth and that is why I urge you to support each other as you work through this together.
I refer Members to the web page of each of PEXA and Sympli in order to familiarise yourselves with the range of online lodgement services that are available, and also, the procedure to subscribe to these services if you have not already done so. I also refer Members to our Member Alert dated 13 March 2020 which provided additional contacts and information relating to PEXA services.
If the transaction is unable to be completed electronically and a paper settlement is required, you are advised to as far as possible to employ social distancing when doing so i.e. to keep a distance of 1.5 metres from others (See https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/03/coronavirus-covid-19-information-on-social-distancing.pdf ).
Use of Priority Notices & 3rd Party agents
We recommend you lodge a Priority Notice in the case of those dealings that are unavailable electronically and for all settlements caught in this transition period.
Use of 3rd party services provided by conveyancers – some conveyancers provide lodgement services for those who are not presently settling electronically. It is important to reach out to one another and see where training, support or lodgement services can be provided.
Verification of Identity – ARNECC advice
The AICSA is pleased to receive the advice from ARNECC with respect to VOI requirements during this time (See CIB 340). We urge you to familiarise yourself with this information and make changes to your practices necessary to meet any government requirements as they evolve (including if and when any lockdown occurs). Notwithstanding the advice, we remind you that your professional obligations still remain at all times, even in extraordinary circumstances.
As previously advised the AICSA does not support the ongoing use of measures put in place for VOI as a result of the COVID19 pandemic. Once the threat of COVID19 has diminished and we have returned to normal business practices, the AICSA would advocate for a full return to the use of the Standard which requires a face to face interview.
The AICSA will endeavour to provide members with assistance wherever possible. We are meeting and working with the banks and settlement agents to identify how the transition will be managed over the coming weeks and alternate arrangements for the short term. As soon as this has been worked through further advice will follow.
Once those alternate arrangements have been provided it is the responsibility of each and every conveyancer to establish how you are going to effect the transaction should it need to remain in paper.
This must be assessed on a case by case basis subject to the parties involved. The AICSA cannot provide you guidance on individual matters. Where we have been unable to provide information around alternate arrangements we recommend you make enquiries with the party in question to see what they have in place.
Contacting the AICSA Office
Whilst we appreciate many of you will be inconvenienced and unhappy about this decision, it has been made due to the extraordinary nature of the events we are facing. As a result of a Federal and State Government directive the action has been taken with the health and safety of South Australians being the paramount concern.
The AICSA is not staffed to take calls regarding this decision and we ask that correspondence is through email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The AICSA has worked extremely hard with the Registrar-General, Land Services and other stakeholders to ensure as much information and pre-emptive advice has been provided and further advice will be provided when it comes to hand.
Chief Executive Officer