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Stamp duty holiday has ‘swamped’ local authority searches

  • 19/11/2020
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Stamp duty holiday has ‘swamped’ local authority searches
The government’s temporary stamp duty holiday has swamped local authorities with land search requests causing significant delays to transactions as buyers seek to beat the 31 March deadline.


According to Search Acumen, conveyancing volumes more than doubled in the third quarter of the year from the previous three months but were still far short of typical levels.

Volumes increased by 105 per cent to 169,143 from July to September, up from 82,385 in April to June, but have hovered around 250,000 per quarter since 2014.

Despite being well short of this long-term norm, the industry has been struggling to keep up with demand since lockdown lifted to meet the stamp duty holiday deadline.

Search Acumen said delays to property searches were chiefly to blame for the delays and called on government to fully embrace and invest in the digitisation programme.


Public bodies ‘swamped’

Director Andy Sommerville said: “While the government’s stamp duty holiday is helping to propel activity into Q4, it has not relieved conveyancers of the pressures they faced in Q2 but has instead presented a different set of challenges for them to navigate.

“After clearing the initial backlog of transactions, raising the stamp duty threshold has swamped public bodies with search requests, and meant that organisations including HM Land Registry and local authorities have struggled to keep up.

“Further, an overreliance on outdated processes has meant that age-old search delays are rearing their ugly head – slowing down the transaction process and threatening to hamper the benefits of the stamp duty scheme.

“To capitalise on the property tax incentive ahead of the deadline next spring, transactions must progress as soon as possible as delays rumble on.”


Invest in digitisation programme

Sommerville added that it was time the government acted decisively by tackling recurring delays in the property market through proper investment and an acceleration of its digitisation programme.

“While this won’t be resolved by 31 March 2021, an industry wide change in mindset is required now – not to mention a new approach to leveraging the available technology to harness the data at our fingertips,” he said.

“We saw evidence of an increase in firms adopting digital practices as a result of the pandemic.

“What’s needed now is firm commitment by all parties to collaborate, adopt the right technologies and build a more efficient property market.

“Only then will we be able to identify risks upfront, reduce uncertainty and progress transactions more effectively in the long term.”

Alongside the increase in volumes, the firm noted a jump in the number of active firms by 56 per cent in Q3, rising to 3,751, up from 2,411 in Q2.

However, this barely affected business at the biggest firms as average transaction levels doubled from 64 in Q2 to 128 in Q3 – although this remained the second lowest figure seen since Q1 2013.



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