Row Intensifies At Law Society Over Changes To ‘Material Information’ Forms

The row between the Property Lawyers Action Group (PLAG) and the Law Society over property information forms which have been redesigned to support NTS guidance on ‘Material Information’ in property sale listings intensified this week.

PLAG said that the changes, which had been made by the Law Society without consultation, should have been discussed with licenced conveyancers.

“The whole focus of CQS [the Society’s accredited conveyancing quality scheme] for many years has been to discourage the practice of raising enquiries about every conceivable matter that could possibly affect a transaction, in favour of fewer targeted, relevant enquiries. In the interests of streamlining conveyancing and reducing the time and cost of transferring title to land CQS has strongly discouraged solicitors from raising numerous enquiries that may not be relevant. The new TA6 and TA7 forms flies in the face of this policy, with no tangible benefits, only increased cost and complexity.

“Whilst licensed conveyancers are not members of LS [Law Society], this lack of basic diplomacy on the part of the LS risks driving a wedge between conveyancing solicitors and licensed conveyancers, the latter of whom mostly adopt the LS (CQS) practices and standards out of courtesy to CQS members. From a practical standpoint, conveyancing relies heavily on firms adopting similar procedures and standards, and the changes announced by the LS therefore risk making transactions considerably more difficult for this reason alone.”

A Law Society spokesperson was reported as responding: ‘We are aware of concerns that have been raised by some of our members. We are taking them seriously and have been looking into them. Once we have had the opportunity to examine those concerns, we will be in a position to consider what, if any, additional guidance, clarification or measures may be necessary.’

Last month the PLAG wrote an open letter to James Munro who heads up the National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agency Team (NTSELAT).

Among its list of criticisms of Material Information was the view that, “MI is simply a reinvention of the ill-fated HIPs project that was rightly scrapped in 2010 due to being “expensive and unnecessary” and causing “cost and hassle” for consumers and “stifling a fragile housing market”.”

They went on, “It is our opinion that MI of itself will not achieve its stated goals of reducing transaction times or fall-throughs. Nor, in most cases, will it encourage buyers and sellers to instruct lawyers earlier in the transaction.”

The letter ended with, “If NTS wishes to help buyers and sellers, it should focus its attention and resources on rooting out exploitative practices such as referral fees, conditional selling, ‘dodgy’ developers and so on.

“We appreciate that this would be far more challenging than the present course, however, it would bring the most benefit to consumers and, unlike MI, conveniently falls within NTS’s existing remit.

“Mr. Munro, we are therefore strongly encouraging NTS to change course and scrap the current version of the guidance as soon as possible.”

In a statement to the Law Society Gazette, James Munro said research by National Trading Standards found that 87% of people who recently moved or were looking to move soon agreed that property portals should include all key information about a home in their property listing and 41% assumed missing information meant something was wrong with the property.

Munro said: ‘This guidance is good news for the industry, which is demonstrated by the evidence we received from agents who expressed support for the mandatory disclosure of material information. Benefits agents cited included a reduction in unnecessary enquiries, swifter sales and fewer transaction fall-throughs. These improvements – for consumers and agents – are why successive governments have continued to back the programme.’

National Trading Standards worked closely with the legal profession to develop and refine the guidance, Munro said, but ‘always welcome any new information, evidence and ideas that continue to improve compliance and raise standards in the sector’.

He said he had received the PLAG letter ‘and will provide a comprehensive response’.

Material information included in new property form

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