Stratford District Council has hit back at reports that the authority is the slowest in the country at completing land searches, saying they are already working to solve the problems.
Last week the national press named the authority as the worst offender in the country, with some searches, an essential part of the conveyancing process, taking up to 95 days.
The reports, based upon research carried out by the website Move iQ, said Stratford and other under-performing authorities were adding needless delays to the home-buying process.
Responding to the reports Cllr Daren Pembertion, portfolio for planning and building services, said: “Concern has rightly been raised by some residents about the performance of the Land Charges service at Stratford District Council following a recent article naming us as the worst performing council in England based on an oldest outstanding search of 95 working days at that time.
“Unfortunately, the Council’s response statement that would have clarified the position and highlight the corrective actions and investment already made to solve the issue was omitted from the article. This has given the erroneous impression that Stratford District Council is unaware of or does not care about providing a good service. Nothing could be further from the truth and this is not where we want to be as an authority.
“Earlier this year I announced an investment of £315,000 in a new IT system for the service, which has also had an additional staff member recruited. Without this investment we are unable to meet the service standard of 10 working days. The current antiquated paper based system is unable to meet the demands now placed upon it. That project has been underway for some months and the new system goes live later this year. This is the solution to the problem and there is no further ‘shortcut’ that will deliver a speedier change. I regret that decisions not to invest in this service by previous administrations some years ago have had a negative impact on service delivery, notwithstanding the hard work of that team.
“Moving house is stressful enough at the best of times. I have previously acknowledged that delays in processing some land charges applications are unacceptable. I repeat that apology and want to reassure people that this matter is being taken seriously and that there is a plan in place to solve the problem.
“Having said all of that, I can confirm no instance has been brought to our attention of a delay directly resulting in the loss of a house sale.”
Cllr Pemberton said the average waiting time for searches was now down to 37 days, with some completed within ten days.
This week local estate agents attacked the council over the issue.
Dan Jackson, Director at Sheldon Bosley Knight said: “These delays make it very difficult for us to operate, we see through the sales process and when it can take three months to get these searches done, it doesn’t half cause a few headaches. The longer the conveyancing goes on the harder it is for us.
“Buying a house is one of the biggest and most stressful things people can do and having these kind of delays just adds extra stress to it all. We operate in places such as Leamington, Kenilworth and Evesham and Stratford is by far the hardest place for us.”
Gianni Susassi, branch manager at Edwards Estate Agents, said: “I posted the story about this on the forum not because I wanted to bash the council, but to draw attention to this issue. There are ways around it, you can take out an indemnity policy which some lenders accept or you can opt to get your searches done privately, but it is all an extra expense.
“With the private search provider we use they still have to use the council’s database and book a slot to go through it, so even going for private searches takes four to six weeks.
“Delays to searches can impact on sales, and you do feel sorry if people are having to live out of cardboard boxes for long periods of time.”
Stratford resident Jon Atkins, who is waiting to move into a new house, said: “Surely these searches have been done time and time again. It’s insane. We are desperate to move. Buyers are ready. We are ready. Our seller is ready. We’ve been told could be by December the 7th. Maybe they meant 2019?
“Having heard about the waiting times, we’re not confident of that at the moment. We’ve got two kids and the plan was to move in before Christmas.”
Political opponents of the ruling Conservative group have also criticised the authority’s performance, Cllr Peter Moorse, leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, saying: “Land charge searches are a critical service provided by the council.
“Typically buyers and sellers will aim for a one month gap between exchange of contracts and completion, yet land charge searches here are currently taking an average of two months.
“I suspect that with the struggles over the Leadership of the Conservative group they’ve taken their eye off the ball, on this and several other matters.
“We’ll be asking for a full explanation of what’s gone wrong and how quickly the problems can be rectified.”
Lib Dem Cllr Jenny Fradgley added: “This is causing major problems for people trying to buy or sell houses in the district. I’ve been contacted by a resident over this and asked whether the council will be paying compensation for extra costs incurred through the delays.”