Minister urges councils to speed up searches amid conveyancing rush

Jenrick: Urged to act

The housing minister has written to local authorities whose delays in returning searches are putting conveyancers under pressure ahead of the stamp duty holiday deadline on 31 March.

But while the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said that only a “small number” of councils needed to be contacted, the Council of Property Search Organisations (CoPSO) said more than a third of local authorities were taking more than 20 or even 30 working days to process search requests.

The ministry said its data suggested that the vast majority were still turning around searches in a timely manner.

It said that, despite the Covid pressures, nearly 88% of authorities were able to meet the target of a response within 10 working days during summer 2020, a 7% increase since engagement began.

The letters remind the remaining councils that they are expected to turn around searches within 10 days and continue to provide reasonable access to personal search agents.

CoPSO wrote to MHCLG secretary Robert Jenrick this week to ask him to address the issue.

Chairman James Sherwood-Rogers said: “Responsibility for the operation of the housing market, and for local authorities come together with Robert Jenrick and this is the reason we have approached him for his direct intervention.”

He said CoPSO appreciated the “extremely difficult conditions” that local authorities were facing, and recounted that the feedback from the “overwhelming majority” with lengthy delays was that they were under-resourced.

“With the expiry of the stamp duty holiday being primarily responsible for the overactive property market, and the Chancellor stubbornly refusing to extend the deadline, it behoves central government to provide additional resource to local Government to address the problem of search delays,” he said.

An MHCLG spokeswoman said: “Councils have played a critical role during the pandemic and we are ensuring they have the resources needed to deliver effective services for their communities.

“Nobody should miss out on the opportunity to move due to delays with local searches and the vast majority of councils continue to promptly process them.

“The housing minister has written to a small number of councils to remind them of our expectations regarding turnaround times.”

She also highlighted the £4.6bn in un-ringfenced funding given to councils throughout the current financial year to help them respond to “the major Covid-19 service pressures in their local area”, with a further £3bn of additional support in the coming year.

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