The United Kingdom has legally recognized electronic signatures (or “eSignatures”) since the passage of the Electronic Signatures Regulations in 2002. With few exceptions, eSignatures are admissible and enforceable in the UK.
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According to English law, a contract is considered valid as long as both parties have a full understanding of the contract and agree to its terms—even in the absence of a signature. Thus, agreements may be considered legal and binding whether they are executed verbally, electronically, or using a physical paper document.
The Electronic Communications Act 2000 holds that electronic signatures are acceptable as proof that both sides agreed to a contract. The Electronic Signatures Regulation 2002 was the first to implement specific and far-reaching rules related to the use of eSignatures in the UK.
eSignature laws were standardized across the European Union in 2016 with the passage of eIDAS regulations (EU Regulation No. 910/2014 on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market).
While the United Kingdom completed its withdrawal from the EU (Brexit) in January 2020, it continues to follow eIDAS with minor amendments. eIDAS defines three classes of eSignature:
- Simple electronic signatures (SES)
- Advanced electronic signatures (AES)
- Qualified electronic signatures (QES)
SES include any form of electronic signal associated with a natural person, including scanned or typed signatures. AES include data that is uniquely linked to the signer. QES are granted the same status as handwritten signatures, but they carry strict certification requirements.
Common eSignature use cases
Standard electronic signatures (SES) are legally valid and appropriate for most business and legal transactions in the United Kingdom. Common use cases include:
- HR documents such as employment contracts, benefit paperwork, and new employee onboarding
- Commercial agreements including NDAs, sales agreements, and procurement documents
- Consumer agreements including new retail accounts
- Real estate documents including deeds registered with HM Land Registry (as of July 2020)
- Securitization documents and guarantees
Use cases where eSignature is not appropriate
Despite broad acceptance of eSignatures, there are certain documents that must be signed by hand in the UK. These include:
- Wills under the Wills Act 1837
- Some family law documents such as prenuptial and separation agreements
- Negotiable instruments such as bills of exchange and promissory notes
- Lasting powers of attorney
- HM Customs & Revenue documents
In most cases, documents that require the presence of a witness, public filing, or notarization must have a physical signature.
Technology standards in the UK
The requirements for digital signature technology vary significantly between countries. Although the United Kingdom recognizes three classes of eSignatures under eIDAS, it takes an open, technology-neutral approach to eSignatures. This means there are no laws requiring the use of specific technology for a legally enforceable electronic signature. Other countries—particularly those in the EU, South America, and Asia—follow tiered eSignature models that may require specific technical requirements and/or independent accreditation by a local certification body.
The information on this site is for general reference and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be considered legal advice, nor should it be relied upon in any decision making process. Laws pertaining to electronic signatures vary by jurisdiction and may change quickly. Conga cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information on this site. Please consult with a licensed attorney, or other qualified counsel, for answers to any specific questions related to the use or validity of electronic signatures.
Last updated: 08/02/2021