The Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) has become the first regulator to offer financial help during the coronavirus crisis, allowing the firms it regulates to defer the regulatory fees they pay.
Conveyancing has been hit hard by the pandemic, after the government said all non-essential transactions should be halted.
The CLC said, although it expected the home-moving industry to bounce back in the longer term, “the short-term economic effects of Covid-19 are likely to be particularly difficult” for the sector.
It has been surveying regulated firms weekly to see in detail the impact of the pandemic on them and their clients.
The regulator said: “With the home-moving market all but at a standstill, specialist conveyancing firms have told the CLC that new instructions have collapsed, although remortgage work, will-writing and probate continue…
“Many practices are now using the coronavirus job retention scheme to furlough staff, deferring VAT and income tax payments, and applying to the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme.
“Some firms will close temporarily with the permission of the CLC and having taken steps to protect their clients and their employees.”
The CLC has issued guidance online and said it was providing direct advice to individual firms through its regulatory supervision managers.
To help them further, it is giving firms that pay their practice fee and compensation fund contributions by direct debit – which is most of them – the option of deferring their April, May and June payments. They can repay them over either four or 12 months, starting in July.
Firms will need to provide financial information supporting their application and details of actions they have taken and will be taking to support their practice.
But the CLC stressed that firms must continue paying their professional indemnity insurance premiums as the policy is triggered at the point a claim is made, rather than when the alleged negligent act was done.
Chief executive Sheila Kumar said: “These are difficult times for everyone and the property market, and hence conveyancing practices and their clients, have been struck very hard by the restrictions in place to control the pandemic.
“While this crisis will pass, it is right that we act swiftly to support the firms we regulate. We want to ensure they can continue to operate and provide essential services to their clients in an appropriately regulated environment.
“Feedback from our regulated community indicates that deferring payment of regulatory fees will be of great help to them.
“Thanks to our careful approach to budgeting, the CLC is in a position to do that, and our governance arrangements allow us to act quickly. Should the challenges for the sector continue past June, we will look at what further steps we can take to support CLC-regulated firms.”