Desperate consumers are looking at the feasibility of changing their lawyer as the impact of the cyber-attack on Simplify, the conveyancing giant, stretches into a second week.
The attack has generated ever more and more negative publicity as well, along with a string of one-star reviews on platforms like Trustpilot.
Simplify owns several well-known conveyancing brands affected by the attack – the nature of which is not yet known – and in its most recent update, issued on Friday, said it had restored IT systems “sufficiently to enable clients to move”.
As a result, “almost all contracted transactions with a fixed completion date are up to date”.
The statement continued: “We have been working non-stop and have substantially increased our customer relations teams to enable us to proactively contact almost all clients who are scheduled to complete.
“We had several days with minimal telephone capacity, but we now have around 300 colleagues making outbound phone calls to clients and this team, who will be working full-time, into the weekend, are calling every client with an update…
“We would assure you that we have been working round the clock to restore our operations. This includes carefully bringing systems online as part of a secure phased approach and finding workarounds to complete transactions safely.”
Simplify stressed that all client monies it was holding were safe, and that Cook Taylor Woodhouse, the Solicitors Regulation Authority-regulated firm it owns – operated on separate systems which were untouched by the attack.
The Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) – which regulates other firms in the group, including Premier Property Lawyers (PPL) and JS Law – said it visited Simplify and met its leadership on Friday “to review the steps they have taken to ensure transactions are completed and that client funds and data are protected”.
It went on: “We are reassured by the progress Simplify has made to date and by their plans for the remaining recovery work. However, we will continue to monitor the CLC-regulated practices to ensure that client interests continue to be secured and that the CLC’s own regulatory requirements are met.”
But consumers remain very anxious and critical about the communication from Simplify – earlier last week, the CLC said it had told the company to improve on this front.
A Facebook support group for clients set up on Friday evening already has 250 members, with one woman saying she had “never felt so ill and stressed”.
Several members on the group have discussed whether they could change lawyers.
One wrote: “We have this week decided to switch conveyancing firms as our chain are desperate to move before Christmas and even though we have already paid search money to PPL and were due them back this past week we didn’t want to hold up the chain so have just pressed on with someone else – will obviously cause a delay but hopefully not too bad and they are positive they can catch up.”
Another urged search companies to be flexible for customers who wanted to do this. “They are saying that they won’t provide the searches to anyone other than the company who requests them… but if PPL system down they aren’t going [to] be able to accept them or find them to forward them on!”
PPL has recorded over 25,000 reviews on Trustpilot and currently has a score of 4.2 stars (out of five), despite a welter of one-star reviews in the last few days. One said: “Current situation is we are homeless with a 7 year old, out of pocket with removals and time off from work.”
There has also been an increasing number of stories in the national media, with the BBC website highlighting the experiences of people left in limbo by the attack and in some cases homeless.