Law firm eyes group action against Simplify over cyber-attack

Payments: Referral fees under the spotlight once more

Group action law firm Keller Lenkner UK is planning a claim over the cyber-attack that continues to affect clients of conveyancing giant Simplify, it has emerged.

A month on from the attack that forced Simplify to take down its systems – affecting Premier Property Lawyers, DC Law and JS Law – clients continue to complain about stalled transactions and poor communication from their lawyers.

It has also prompted the launch of a petition calling for a ban on referral fees in conveyancing.

Simplify’s most recent update last week said: “An ever-growing proportion of our conveyancing colleagues are back up and running on core systems and progressing transactions.

“We continue to prioritise the most urgent cases, and are working with clients to help them move forward towards exchange and completion

“We very much regret any uncertainty and disruption that our clients and others may have experienced. Our team, supported by external experts, are working non-stop to get the remainder of our systems safely back up and running, with progress being made every day.”

Group action law firm Keller Lenkner UK, which specialises in data breach and cybercrime litigation, said it was investigating various aspects of the crisis as part of its intention to bring a claim, “such as potential data lost, delayed/cancelled transactions, financial implications and more”.

In a message to the ‘When conveyancing goes rogue’ Facebook group – set up in the wake of the attack and which now has 1,400 members – the firm stressed that, as it did not handle conveyancing, “we have no conflicts or concerns about standing up for justice, regardless of how big the opponent”.

Simplify has previously said it did not believe that client data was compromised as a result of the attack.

Simplify has arrangements with various major estate agencies to funnel work in its direction. The petition on was started over the weekend by Julie Close, who works for a firm of licensed conveyancers. It argues that the payment of referral fees to estate agents “is not in the best interest of the public”.

It continues: “The payment of referral fees denies the consumer choice [and] allows for an environment where estate agents can apply pressure or manipulation to use the ‘pet’ conveyancer…

“Often there is no transparency and full disclosure that a referral fee is involved and the amount being paid. The payment of referral fees to gain conveyancing business denies investment into improving systems, training and delivery of quality services.

“Instructions should be gained by delivery of a quality service, repeat business and recommendations from previous users. It will necessitate that the conveyancing companies to become more ‘client focused’ rather than looking at other opportunities to buy business.”

So far, more than 200 people have signed the petition, which this morning garnered support from the National Leasehold Campaign, which tweeted: “We know the use of ‘pet’ solicitors has played no small part in the #leaseholdscandal.”

The payment of referral fees in conveyancing has been the subject of debate for many years. In October 2020, a report from National Trading Standards’ estate and letting agency team called for mandatory disclosure of referral fees, instead of a ban.

The government has asked it to keep monitoring the situation.

Separately, Conservative MP Bob Blackman, a member of Parliament’s levelling-up, housing and communities select committee, said he would support the committee investigating what had happened.

He told the Daily Express: “Whilst [Simplify] are working around the clock to restore their systems, we have heard numerous stories of home buyers not being able to complete or exchange. Indeed we have heard several stories of people having to sleep in their cars as they had to leave their old house and had not been able to complete on their new home.

“I would certainly welcome an investigation by [the] committee to investigate how this happened and what steps are been taken to prevent such an incident from happening again.

“Whilst it remains down to [Simplify] how they handle the situation, I would welcome any efforts to offer some sort of compensation.”

    Readers Comments

  • kim element says:

    Simplify need to face legal action over their total lack of communication and honesty. I paid off my mortgage in total as I had exchanged on my sale and just waiting for my vendors to confirm return of signed contracts with Premier Properties Lawyers. I heard nothing from these people, nor indeed from my Solicitors at Beaumont Lawyers, and it was left to my Estate Agent to inform me of the Cyber attack last Tuesday1st December. I am left completely in the dark as to my position and if there is a chance of moving before Xmas.
    I have my house packed ready to go, removal company all set to go too but I may now lose my buyer and have to start this nightmare all over again.
    Simplify need to pay for the emotional distress caused as well as the financial impact of their lax attitude to peoples lives when they are at their most vulnerable. Vile!

  • Mr&Mrs A.Maddison. says:

    PPL,dealt with our sale&purchase,we actually did get moved into our new home on the 5th November 21,2 days before the attack,but we are still waiting for the surplus funds from the transation to go into our bank account,after countless attempts to speak to someone about this we are still no further forward and have had no emails no letters or phone calls to let us know whats going on.we need this money.asap
    Kind regards Mr Alfred Maddison.

  • Rachel Cev says:

    My buyers solicitors are PPL and we had reached a stage of agreeing a completion date – now PPL have decided not to respond to my solicitors for then past month!!! In the words of my solicitor – “radio silence”My buyers mortgage offer runs out this month and mine does next month. I fear I may lose my ongoing purchase (and probably my house sale) as a result of this and all the money I’ve already paid out and my solicitors will still want paying!!! This is money I cannot afford to lose. This has been one of the most distressing/upsetting experiences I’ve had to endure. How can they just chose to completely ignore people?? How is this acceptable?? I have no idea what to do… it’s horrible.

  • Ms K Wooldridge says:

    Worst experience in moving of my life the law firm had been slow due to a large volume of referrals from purplebricks no doubt we missed 3 exchange dates one on 5th November just as the system went down. I finally move 3rd December but both my buyer & vendors were set to withdraw.

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