A Smart Approach to Searches

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More expensive Council Searches

After a long battle, HMRC has now seen fairness and will charge VAT on the CON29 part of a Council local search. This was due to take effect from 1/2/2016 but has now been delayed. The latest announcement declares that it will happen but no fixed date yet.

So what are personal searches?

imageWhat are Personal Searches?

Recently, this article appeared in The News, Portsmouth. So what are personal searches? was the theme of the article. Imagine the buyer of a property is asked by their solicitor for some cash upfront to “pay for searches etc.”, what are they paying for and why?

I aimed to answer this question and did so in this article. The full text can be found here:

What are Searches?

When your conveyancer or solicitor informs you that they will be ordering searches for your intended purchase of a property, what does that mean? What are these “searches” and why do you need them?

Since 1975, property law in this country has required that “Local Land Charges searches” are carried out with the local council for all property transactions.

What does that mean?

This search looks to find any entries relating to your property in the Local Land Charges Register and a series of enquiries about the property. The register contains a variety of legal requirements, notices and agreements with varying effects on the property. Is the tree in the garden protected? Am I likely to get the planning permission I am considering, based on the planning history? Is the property listed or in a conservation area? Highways Agreements for the future maintenance of new roads are also revealed among other “charges”.

The enquiries that go with that form go even more in depth and will give a full planning history including any pending applications, outstanding notices for housing issues, roads status given in depth, location of public footpaths and proposals for land use for the surrounding area can prove very important. Other issues include transport proposals which may prove of interest such as road widening, new bus routes, cycle lanes etc.

Up to 1990 that was the only search you needed or was available. In that year, drainage issues were taken out of that search and required a separate report from the Water Authority. This is important to find out who is responsible for all the drains and sewers attached to the property and where they are. Planning an extension? You may want to know that your main drain in the back garden is only two feet down!

During that period, environmental searches and other reports started to become available. This enabled your solicitor to find out about a whole new vast amount of information for you. Past contaminated land use, radon gas levels, flood risk, underground workings, ground stability etc. And a full range of extra reports depending on location such as HS2 , fracking, mining, London Underground, Japanese Knotweed and a full planning assessment of applications in the neighbourhood, not just this property.

So now you have a choice and can expect to pay anything up to £200 for the whole “pack” of searches, but I hope you now can see the wealth of valuable information you are getting for your money.

Land Registry Update

Changes to the CON 29 and CON 290 Forms

I was delighted to read the long awaited announcement on the Law Society’s website that the introduction of the revised CON 29 and CON 29O forms is now finally in sight. There’s an official timetable that will see their introduction on 4th July 2016.

Whilst the forms are not yet published on the Law Society’s website – we’re told that specimen forms will be on there, ‘shortly’. However we’ve managed to secure copies and you can download them here: Specimen CON 29 form – front sheet and information sheet, Specimen CON 29O form – front sheet and information sheet. We expect them to match the forms as drafted and distributed some time back and which we still have many copies of in our office (happy to share on request). What we do know is that the new forms will enable conveyancers to ask about ‘Community Infrastructure Levy’ and assets of ‘Community Value’. This  is a welcome development as both the introduction of CIL and the associated rates vary across the country and there is no central register as such. We also see that whilst the forms may not officially ‘go live’ until 4th July 2016, a number of conveyancers may choose to start raising some of these questions in advance of this and in their article, the Law Society suggests that if they do so, then they should, ‘follow the format of the enquiry on the form’. However they do add that if conveyancers do wish to ask about CIL related information then they should firstly check for a published charging schedule of CIL rates on the website of the local authority concerned.

So although the details are not yet fully clear, there does seem to be good reason to be hopeful that these revisions will improve the consistency and clarity of the information that conveyancers receive from local authorities and with it being such a long awaited development I think a I might join our american friends and set off a few celebratory fireworks of my own to mark the day. The full Law Society article can


In November, Andrew attended the first HM Land Registry Local Land Charges Conference. A very interesting day indeed. The main points were that the date capture of Local Land Charges Registers will commence in 2017 with phase one being taking all the London Council data and placing it in the new Central Register. This will cover the whole of England and be live in 2013.

There will be secondary legislation next year but there is absolutely no intention to include CON29 data. As for the funding, well, the data will all be completely free. The whole project will cost the state £189 million approximately. The aim is that the economy will benefit to the tune of £80 million per year in cost savings to the consumer in the conveyancing process.

Other interesting presentations included a free anti fraud service, where you can place a monitor in up to ten imageproperties at a time to see if there are any changes to the mortgage register you may wish to know about.

Search of the index map will be replaced by the online MapSearch facility which will be providing for our clients


Portsmouth City Council Land Charges close

Portsmouth City Council to close Land Charges Search Register

Many of us involved professionally in property in Portsmouth were surprised and disappointed to learn that Portsmouth City Council were planning to close their local authority searches and local land charges service for just short of 3 weeks from 29th May until 15th June 2015 whilst they upgrade their system and conduct related training. In the end the closure didn’t happen but it was only postponed and we’ve now been informed by Portsmouth City Council that it will in effect close for two weeks between Monday 9th and Monday 23rd November 2015.

As mentioned in my blog on this website back in May, the closure of the Local Land Charges service could have far reaching and significant effects on property transactions in the area and anyone wishing to complete a purchase during this period. The bottom line here is that we can expect there to be around two weeks added to the length of time it takes for the purchase of a property in Portsmouth,  if the process starts around or shortly before the 9th November. Indeed it’s often the case that the result of the local land charges search is the final confirmation needed for the remaining process to complete. This means that we can expect that many completions will not now happen during this two week period and such delay will be bad news for affected vendors who will not want to see their buyers put off course in any way or indeed buyers who are part of a chain where timing may be critical.

I appreciate that systems need to be upgraded in order to move with the times and staff training is also important and with major changes some disruption is perhaps inevitable. However, whilst we appreciate getting the ‘heads up’ on this from Portsmouth City Council, what would have been even more welcome would have been a meeting where a better understanding for the necessity of these measures could have been developed and ‘workarounds’ or alternative options and mitigating measures could have been explored.

I have raised these points again with Portsmouth City Council and continue to await a response.

If you are involved in a property transaction that may be affected by this closure and you have concerns then you should raise these with your legal representative as soon as possible. For those property professionals who are concerned about it then please contact the Portsmouth Property Association who are monitoring the situation or drop me a line directly.