Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
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Delivering a better deal on property searches

Delivering a better deal on property searches

COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT News Release (012) issued by The Government News Network on 18 January 2008

New measures to help deliver faster and cheaper property searches for homebuyers were published today by Junior Housing Minister Iain Wright.

Councils and private search companies will be expected to work together to improve the quality and speed of providing property searches to homebuyers.

The Government today set out new guidance to improve the process for consumers. Local authorities should now aim to provide access to their data within one working day to private search companies. In return, they will be able to recoup their costs by setting a fair charge for improving access.

The changes to property search delivery are the latest step in the Government's reforms to improve consumer experience of the home buying and selling process.

Search provision is improving but there can still be wide variation across the system - the best can provide it within hours but the worst can take 2 weeks, whilst charges range from £40 to £280. At present, private search companies are often unable to access council data so they must take out insurance cover for any gaps.

Ensuring both providers have equal access to the data not only removes the need for insurance cover, but mean the provider's focus can be on giving consumers the best property search service at lowest possible cost.

The changes follow recommendations made by the Office of Fair Trading to improve competition between the public and private sector in the delivery of property searches to consumers.

Junior Housing Minister Iain Wright said:

"Homebuying and selling can be a stressful experience and we are committed to improving the system for people.

"By levelling the playing field for providers consumers will be able to get important property information earlier in the home buying process and see the costs coming down as a result."

Home Information Packs (HIPs) are already beginning to bring benefits to consumers with average property search costs starting to fall because of the new competition created by HIPs - 85 local authorities have already reduced their charges by £30 on average. Today's announcement will go further to ensure consumers get a better deal.

HIPs particularly benefit first time buyers through a reduction in their upfront costs by not having to pay for a pack, helping them in getting a foot on the housing ladder.

Bridget Prentice, Minister responsible for local land charge policy at the Ministry of Justice, added:
"Local land charge searches are a very important part of the property search process.
"We want to give local authorities the power to set fees for a personal search of the local land charges register. The idea would be to charge fees on a cost recovery basis. This should help local authorities to improve the service they provide but more importantly it will ensure consumers pay a fair price for their search."

Notes to Editors

1. The two documents published today are:
* A good practice guidance for local authorities and personal searchers which will speed up access to local authority held property data ensuring access to all property searches are provided within 1 working day and no later than 3 working days. The good practice guidance is available at http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/housing/personalsearchguide
* A consultation document on future arrangements for LA charges for property search services proposes a fair and transparent charging regime which will improve competition, stimulate innovation and ultimately reduce the costs of property searches for the consumer. The full consultation document is available at http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/housing/lachargesearchconsult

2. In particular, the good practice access guidance is intended to:
(i) Address the Office of Fair Trading recommendation that local authorities make available all the unrefined information they hold that is needed to compile a local search and that this is done on terms that do not advantage an authority's own local search activities over other searchers;
(ii) Promote good practice and good working relations among local authority staff and searchers;
(iii) Confirm that all the information should be made available to searchers wanting to complete a local search;
(iv) Assist local authorities in providing access for searchers to both the LLCR and other records, while at the same time allowing staff to manage and update those records;
(v) Provide an overview of the legislation which applies to searches and the duties of local authorities in facilitating these searches.

News Releases: http://www.communities.gov.uk/newsroom