Home-buying process to blame for complaints against conveyancers
Good communication can reassure clients, says chief ombudsman
Improving the home-buying process will lower the number of complaints against conveyancers and enhance the moving experience, the Conveyancing Association has said in response to the Legal Ombudsman’s latest complaints data.
In 2015/16, the Legal Ombudsman resolved 1,394 conveyancing complaints – 300 fewer than in 2014/15 (1,698) – despite residential transactions rising during the same period. Conveyancing complaints (22 per cent) accounted for the largest area of LeO complaints.
The most common grievance was a failure to advise (24 per cent), followed by issues around delay and failing to progress, which accounted for 20 per cent of complaints – a 7 per cent rise since 2012/13. Failing to communicate accounted for 16 per cent – a sharp contrast with an earlier survey by the Conveyancing Association which found poor communication was blamed in 47 per cent of failed transactions.
Beth Rudolf, director of delivery at the Conveyancing Association, told Solicitors Journal that the trade body was ‘not surprised’ at the figures and raised concerns with the home-moving procedure.
‘In our experience it is the process that is causing the issues and not the conveyancers, who in the main are hard-working, diligent professionals who will move heaven and earth to get their client moved on the day they want to move,’ she said.
‘The difficulty is the lack of transparency and the uncertainty which means that home movers have no legally binding commitment for the date of their move until, in some cases, the actual day they are moving out.’
Last year, LeO published new guidance to clarify lawyers’ role in the conveyancing process. Its chief ombudsman, Kathryn Stone OBE, said good communication went ‘a long way to preventing complaints’.
‘We are aware that sometimes the process doesn’t move as quickly as a customer would like, but that might be down to a third-party delay, rather than poor service from the conveyancer. We also recognise that in some cases customers might have unreasonable expectations about how quickly the transaction should complete.
‘If there is a delay from a third party, for example, I would encourage conveyancers to communicate that to their customer. Otherwise, the customer might wrongly assume that the delay is with their conveyancer.’
Stone stressed the importance of conveyancers being realistic with customers about timescales. ‘Good communication is also key to managing expectations. For buyers it is often about “location, location, location”. For conveyancers, see “communication, communication, communication”.’
In November, the Conveyancing Association put forward a range of ‘ambitious’ solutions to modernise the conveyancing process in its white paper, ‘Modernising the Home Moving Process’, which posited a raft of reforms to ensure greater certainty early on in transactions.
These included requiring a legal commitment on offer to reduce transaction failures, completion monies to be sent through the day before completion, and providing a reliable lending decision-in-principle based on a ‘hard’ credit report without impacting on the applicant’s credit score.
Speaking to Solicitors Journal, Rob Hailstone, CEO of Bold Legal Group, said the new mortgage rules that came into force in 2014 had contributed to a higher proportion of complaints around delay.
‘At the time there were concerns about the implementation of these rules. It was thought that a stricter interview could mean lenders asking more delving questions about an applicant's lifestyle and the whole process could take longer, resulting in an extension of the amount of time it takes to move home.
‘It looks likely that those concerns have materialised, and the public, being the public, have no desire to establish why their transaction is being delayed. There is only one person to blame, the conductor, the ringmaster, i.e. the conveyancer.’
In the 2016 Spring Budget, the then chancellor, George Osborne, announced the ‘government would shortly publish a call for evidence on how to make the process better value for money and more consumer-friendly’. This, however, has yet to materialise.
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy told the journal that it was ‘very much looking’ at issuing the call and expects to do so this year.
Matthew Rogers is a reporter at Solicitors Journal