Local Authority Searches explained
Are local searches important when buying a house? What do they include? How long do local authority searches take in 2021 and how much do they cost? What are the impacts of COVID-19 and what can you do to avoid delays? Here's everything you need to know.
Local Authority searches are an essential part of the home buying process. The information they reveal can be used to renegotiate your offer and may even make you pull out of the purchase. They are also required by mortgage lenders.
What’s included in a local authority search?
There are two parts to a local authority search – a LLC1 and a CON29. The LLC1 – Local Land Charge Register search – covers any charges or attendant restrictions relating to land or property. These can include whether the property is:
- a listed building
- located in a conservation area
- subject to a tree protection order
- in need of an improvement or renovation grant
- or situated in a smoke control zone
The form also covers planning agreements and conditional planning permissions. All LLC1 registrations are legally binding on successive owners.
The second part of the search – the CON29 – supplies information relating to public highways, proposals for new roads, rail schemes or planning decisions that could affect the property, as well as outstanding statutory notices, breaches of planning or building regulations or the existence of a compulsory purchase order. Environmental factors, such as whether the house stands on contaminated land or in a Radon gas affected area are also covered.
What isn’t included in a local authority search?
There are a number of additional reports that are not covered by the standard local authority search and are therefore subject to extra fees. The need for such searches will be determined by your conveyancing solicitor or mortgage lender on a case-by-case basis (although some are considered essential by certain lenders).
- The CON29 (O) optional form which deals with applications on roads proposed by private bodies, completion notices, land maintenance notices and environmental and pollution notices
- Environmental searches (to determine a risk of flooding for example, as well as the proximity of any waste sites or potentially contaminated sites)
- Water authority searches (which show any public sewers within the boundaries of the property which could impact upon future building or development)
- Chancel Repair reports (to determine if your property is liable for church repair contributions).
It’s worth noting the additional searches, such as mining searhces, flood searches and energy and infrastructure searches are determined by the locality of the property, rather than just the conveyancer or lender. For example, a mining search may be required if the property is in a mining area (rather than because the conveyancer or lender insist one is done in every case).
What’s the difference between official searches and personal searches?
There are two different types of local authority searches – official or personal. The ‘official’ method involves sending forms directly to the local authority where a search is conducted by council staff from the Local Land Charges Register. This is then signed and stamped by a council officer and returned to your conveyancer.
Personal Local Authority Search
A personal local authority search is conducted by an external agency unaffiliated with the council and working ‘independently’ from the same Register. In many cases, these searches are quicker and cheaper than an official application and are covered by specific information accuracy insurance policies as well as employer error liability. As a result, many conveyancers recommend personal searches, although debate within the industry still rages as to which is best.
Some solicitors believe that an official search conducted by the local authority places greater emphasis upon comprehensibility, local authority liability and regulatory Search Code compliance over speed of return.
Nevertheless, most industry veterans agree that the standard and accuracy of personal search reports has risen substantially in the past decade and argue that reputable, commercially aware search companies often provide a greater level of control, accountability and flexibility than council searches (as well as financial and time saving benefits). The rule of thumb in such cases should be to consult with your conveyancing solicitor and consider all possibilities.
In any case, whether an official or personal search is done is often determined more by the mortgage lender. The conveyancing solicitor will have to check the Council of Mortgage Lender’s Handbook to see which searches the individual lender accepts.
How much will a local search cost?
Fees are subject to a wide range of variables. If you have chosen a local authority search for example, you could be charged anywhere between £50 and £250 depending on the local authority. Additional fees also differ accordingly, so be sure to consult your local authority website, but on average drainage reports will cost between £30-40 plus VAT, whilst environmental reports cost between £30-35 plus VAT (for example).
Personal search company fees usually range between £75- £120 for a standard search.
Alternatively, you could purchase a fixed fee ‘bundle’ package from your conveyancing solicitor to cover the four main report criteria (Local Authority, Drainage and Water, Environmental and Chancel reports). These usually cost around £200-260, but the main advantage is that they will cover local authority costs even if the combined total exceeds the paid fee. You can also conduct a personal search yourself for free, but this is not recommended as local reports require specialist knowledge to execute a search properly.
How long do local searches take when buying a house in 2021?
The government target for returning local searches is a maximum of 10 working days.
But in reality, timescales on searches can vary significantly, from 48 hours to ten weeks! Mitigating factors can include whether the results are sent via email, online or by post; seasonal demand levels and local authority staffing levels.
With the coronavirus pandemic taking its toll, delays are rife.
According to the Council of Property Search Organisations, in September 2020 there were 44 Local Authorities where searches took over 20 days and some authorities are even refusing to allow personal searches to be conducted at this time (e.g. York).
As an extreme example, there are currently no searches available for properties in the London Borough of Hackney; Hackney Council has advised that this is likely to remain the case well into the Spring of 2021. This was due to a cyber attack. Searches in Bedford are taking up to 125 working days because of a new restricted appointments systems to comply with Covid practices.
Even when things return to normal we can still expect problems. Throughout 2019 we heard from homebuyers in Derby Council where searches were taking nearly nine weeks, Sevenoaks in Kent five weeks and Camden Council at least 10 weeks.
We strongly advise you check with your conveyancer the situation where you are buying as soon as you appoint them.
How can I speed up a local search?
First of all, make sure you instruct your conveyancing solicitor to start local searches as soon as your offer has been accepted.
Some industry experts are advising sellers to order searches (with the issue of getting the buyer to pay for the cost at a later date). But be mindful that searches only last 3 months.
If your local authority are likely to make you wait weeks and risk you losing your purchase property, you could consider a personal search company as noted above. But check with your solicitor or local authority before deciding which might be quickest.
Search insurance is also an option.
Local Authority Search Indemnity Insurance
If your searches are subject to delay, one growing trend is for Local Authority Search Indemnity Insurance. Often available for very little (premiums starting for as little as £20), this is a type of insurance which means that you’re insured in the event that an order is served causing you to sell the property under the price paid for the property.
It means you can proceed with your house purchase in the absence of local search results with a little more reassurance. However, you will still be exposed by the fact you are unaware of detailed information about potential local issues and threats which could lower your enjoyment of the property.
Local Authority Search Indemnity Insurance will also be subject to your mortgage lender’s approval. You should check your lender will accept it. Some of the biggest lenders including Halifax, HSBC and Bank of Ireland are unlikely to accept search delay indemnity in place of full searches. Skipton Building Society and NatWest have just announced that they will accept search insurance.
We highly recommend you discuss the pros and cons of insurance with your conveyancing solicitor.
What to watch for when you get a local search?
There are a few factors to consider before taking your Local Authority report at face value. Firstly, it is important to remember that local searches are often relevant to your property or street alone and might not cover developments located a short distance away (or even next door). Reports can vary, so always be sure to check the area remit of your search or make additional enquiries at your local council. For example, you can search most planning applications by postcode on the local authority website for the area in which you are buying. It’s worth remembering that any planning proposals submitted after your search will not be covered.
Do I need to get a search if I’m a cash buyer?
Cash buyers do not necessarily have to conduct a search but most conveyancing solicitors will recommend that they do so. If the client elects not to carry out local authority searches then the conveyancer may recommend No Search Indemnity Insurance as an alternative.