Searches and the pandemic: councils react positively but there is more to do

15 April 2020

  • Less than 8% of Searches effected by Covid-19 epidemic restrictions
  • CoPSO welcomes unprecedented effort by councils to get information out to conveyancers
  • Property Searches currently available in all but 24 councils

The Council of Property Search Organisations (CoPSO) today welcomed the efforts put in by the majority of councils in England and Wales to enable searches to be produced during the coronavirus lock down.

Despite the disruption caused by the Covid-19 epidemic, CoPSO members have been able to continue to meet the needs of conveyancers and home movers due to the efforts made by local authorities who have changed working practices to provide data electronically for the duration of the crisis. Such action has reduced the risk of spreading or catching Covid-19 for council employees and their families, as well as CoPSO members.

However, there are some local authorities that have refused to email information to search companies, insisting instead that search agents still have to visit their offices, putting the wellbeing of CoPSO members and council staff at risk.

‘The vast majority of searches are ordered via a search agent and we are delighted that in over 90% of cases CoPSO members are able to serve their customers without any problems. Indeed, our request to councils to provide searches via email has been widely met and we want to thank all those councils who have made this possible’ said James Sherwood-Rogers, Chairman of CoPSO.

However, it is frustrating that there are some councils who are forcing search agents to make unnecessary journeys, at a time when the rest of the country is doing everything they can to protect the NHS and save lives by reducing journeys and staying at home where possible. The government guidance is clear on the matter.’

CoPSO has also found that a small number of councils have increased or introduced new charges for providing information to CoPSO members during the pandemic, and one council is restricting access to search agents whilst promoting its own commercial search company.

“Local Authorities must act within the law and not use this crisis to flout competition rules and increase costs for home movers, especially at a time of so much uncertainty for home movers and the wider housing market.” says JSR

CoPSO has written to the Competition and Markets Authority and to MHCLG about these authorities. CoPSO is also considering publishing a list of the local councils who are not supporting the Government’s movement restriction guidelines.

‘We will do everything we can to reduce the risks to our members and the wider community by persuading councils to provide information electronically during the crisis’ James said. ‘Whilst most councils are working very effectively with search agents across the country, there are a few who appear to be seeking to benefit from the situation, or to cause problems for access, rather than doing what they can to resolve them.

There are only 24 councils who are currently unable to produce a search at all, usually due to the closure of an office holding essential records. CoPSO is monitoring the situation closely. In these cases CoPSO guidance is clear.

‘Where a search is not currently available, Search Code members have very strict guidelines about what insurances can or cannot be provided to ensure that the Search remains fully compliant with Lenders Handbook and Legal Regulations. If you are acting in one of the affected areas, ensure the product you are buying is fully compliant with the Search Code to avoid issues further down the line.’

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