The factors that are to blame for conveyancing delays

It has been a year since the country entered its first lockdown, a milestone none of us could have envisaged back then. It also marks what was the start of one of the most tumultuous years the property market has ever witnessed.

From the initial drought that the first lockdown brought, to the flooding of the market in July post-lockdown, all aspects of the industry whether they be estate agents, conveyancers, or lenders have had to demonstrate flexibility.

Since the start of the first lockdown, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers has been regularly surveying our regulated community to see how the firms we regulate are managing and adapting through this period. It has also provided snapshots of how the wider market has been performing. In November we provided an overview of how the industry had fared over the previous eight months. Now, a full year on, what are the continuing effects of the pandemic?

As we are all very aware, the much-vaunted Stamp Duty holiday had the desired effect of boosting the property market, to the brink of collapse if you’d believe all the media hype around it. While it is true that that market did quickly become flooded overnight, our experience of speaking to our firms, in November, showed that less than half (46%) told us that they had to turn work away.

More recently, the backlog of transactions, in part, prompted the Chancellor to extend the holiday until September, a move welcomed by the industry. In November, 78% of our firms were concerned about a steep drop off in work come the end of March and said they would welcome a phased exit from the SDLT holiday. So, has this phased exit helped eased case-loads?

In our latest survey, which ran in February, just 41% of firms said that high caseloads are causing matters to take longer than usual. In fact, just over three quarters (76%) of our firms told us that it is delays arising from the impact of the pandemic on third parties such as local authorities and HM Land Registry that are causing delays. While 65% of firms told us that lender response times are also contributing to delays.

22% of firms surveyed said their current levels of work are at 100-125% of the level in February 2020, with 17% of firms saying work levels were at more than 126% of the February 2020 levels. These increases appear modest. We always encourage firms to be mindful of the levels of work they take on, to ensure that it isn’t more that they can manage, and the data seems to be bearing this out. We hope that the tapering effect of the SDLT extension will also allow firms to more effectively manage their workloads, and reduce risk.

In November when we spoke to firms about their financial situation, 42% had used the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, with the highest proportion being those with a turnover of £1-3m and £3-5m where 67% and 75% respectively had utilised the financial aid. When we spoke to the same firms again recently, 61% said their debt levels were now unchanged from this time last year, 23% said their debt levels are currently higher, but 10% said they were actually lower.

Seemingly, stronger financial positions alongside a more gradual withdrawal of the SDLT holiday have contributed to an uptick in industry sentiment. A very heartening 93% of our firms told us that they feel very or quite confident now about the future. This is certainly good news, and really quite telling. This is an industry that has had to adapt very quickly and demonstrate flexibility and innovation in order to not just survive but thrive.

In November, we said that the industry has much to be proud of in its handling of the crisis to date, a statement we stand by as estate agents, conveyancers and lenders alike have shown resilience in their navigation of the crisis to date.

The survey ran from 14 to 28 February and asked conveyancers about their work in the week ending Friday, 5th February. 150 firms participated.

Stephen Ward, is Director of Strategy and External Relations at the Council for Licensed Conveyancers.


Email the story to a friend


  1. scruffy

    Interesting to note conveyancers dare to blame Local Authorities for delays in Search responses.
    Hearing of this common complaint last October, I spoke to 3 Local Authorities my branch network operates in. Each confirmed they maintained a 10 working day turnaround for Searches since March last year.
    Several were also savvy enough to ask the reason for my call, recognising that they were being blamed in this way.
    A flexible response from conveyancers  would have been welcomed, but this was not our experience. They maintained their web advertising and unrealistic promised timescales when clearly not equipping themselves with more staff or simply, a more focussed and organised work ethic.
    “Make hay while the sun shines” is a familiar work maxim for farmers during harvest each year.
    The market delivered a golden opportunity for lawyers and conveyancers to show entrepreneurial spirit coupled with professionalism.
    Largely failed on both counts in our experience.

  2. smile please

    Searches, lenders and surveyors all fine.


    Only issue we have is conveyancers.

  3. Rob Hailstone

    Conveyancers aren’t blaming the lenders, HMLR and the LAs for all the delays they are saying that they are are contributing to the delays.
    My neighbours (in Torbay) are moving, and all is ready to exchange but they have had to wait (and are still waiting) weeks for the return of the Local search.
    Which three LAs did you speak to scruffy? My experience is that the majorly, understandably, let turnaround times slip.

  4. David Jabbari Solicitor CEO Muve

    Nearly every major lender accepts search indemnity insurance on purchase transactions so there is always an option to bypass a local authority search if it matters to the parties to move quickly.

  5. Alan Murray

    Well probably the scariest thing about this article is the fact that the CLC refer to conveyancing as an “industry”. It never was and never will be as far as I am concerned, it is a profession. But that description by the CLC in itself goes a long way to explaining many of the issues and problems in the profession today, and the reasons so many conveyancing outfits are not fit for purpose.
    One alarming and glaring phenomenon which has come to light in recent months is the total lack of leadership at the top of the conveyancing sector. The regulatory bodies have shown themselves to be inadequate, and every week we hear from unelected, unrepresentative trade bodies putting forward suggestions or comments as to how they feel conveyancing should go forward. In this case a vacuum at the top leading to a fracturing below, a case of too many Indians and no chief and nobody pulling in the same direction. If the top is not right, how can anyone expect the rest of the profession to be perfect?
    As a result of which COVID, working from home and the SDLT holiday has led to a perfect storm which has hit the conveyancing profession at a time when standards were the lowest ever, and sadly shown up too many deficiencies that, even for someone as passionate about the job as myself, are impossible to defend.
    Certainly conveyancers are not to blame for everything. Some Local Authorities are indeed being very slow to return Local Searches. Though not enough to be an excuse across the board. Lenders are being very slow to issue mortgage offers and because of their staffing issues take an age to reply to queries over mortgage conditions. We also it should be remembered, act on our clients instructions. If they have their own reasons for wanting us to progress a transaction slowly, and a lot do, and they therefore do not send in identification documents or payments on account quickly then we cannot act as quickly as Agents may desire. But if our clients tell us not to impart information we cannot, it’s that simple.
    I also object to Estate Agents blaming conveyancers across the board for delays. We all know the thirty or so firms we all love to hate who are the real culprits. Those firms effectively created by the Agents due to the large introducer fees they pay. Agents, there is an easy answer to the problems they are causing you is there not? But self-same Agents will always put money before service in continuing to send those factories clients?
    I work with a lot of Solicitors, good people providing a good service to their clients. Those good firms are thriving without letting greed overcome them by taking on every client that makes an enquiry of them. It is the bad firms and bad conveyancers, who unfortunately at the present time form the majority of the profession, who are tarring us all with a bad brush. It is frustrating but those good professional conveyancers out there who have remembered the real reason we all do this job, and put their clients first, will win out. Until then we are all doing our best which for some of us is better than most, but if people who do not really know who we are and the passion we have for our clients wellbeing, continue to criticise from selfish positions of weakness, then that only makes our roles harder.

  6. tim main

    As some have said above.  Where there is a will there is a way.  With all the tools of insurance etc it is amazing how those who want to get things done still seem to achieve it, while some less flexible struggle.  With the rate properties are selling at the moment, another bacl log is going to build.  Surely estate agents working with their clients to get as much information together from the date of instruction is even more sensible in this busy market.  even ordering the searches on day one of marketing makes sense when so many sales are being agreed in the first week.  PIP Vaults can store and share this information.

  7. scruffy

    It’s a bit rich to suggest that Estate Agents created poor firms of conveyancers due to the large introducer fees they pay. I readily agree that those who accept such fees (or indeed any referral fees in my book) should live and die by the sword for referring such a patently compromised service to their client base.

    Don’t get me started on referral fees as I personally believe they will permanently deny all those in estate agency who wish to be regarded as professional, that opportunity.

    To act “in the best interest of your client at all times” is a maxim fading in the memory for those who used to treasure it. I accept that my view may divide opinion.

    But it seems rich to suggest that those agents who were unable to resist the blandishments of countless calls we all had to endure from telesales promoters of conveyancing heaven where we could all benefit from such wonderful new relationships etc etc. should share the blame when that business model is shown wanting.

    This is not my “I told you so moment”, but it should cause those who chose that path to re-examine the motives behind their decision. For the corporates, it’s just another income stream. But for more customer relationship focussed agents, their reputation may depend on such decisions.

  8. Rob Hailstone

    Are you our missing chief Alan, because the unelected, unrepresentative trade bodies (whose paying members obviously appreciate their efforts, as they aren’t forced to become or remain members) are, in your opinion, failing badly? Can you walk the talk?

    1. Alan Murray

      Better than being a troll Rob.

  9. New Order in a Joy Division

    The factors that are to blame for conveyancing delays?
    So conveyancing is in itself to blame then?

    The fundamental blame is that the bosses lumbered already overstretched conveyancers with work from staff they chose to furlough as nothing more than a cost saving exercise paid for by the UK taxpayer. Through this whole pandemic, conveyancers have had no slowdown in the volume of work, in fact it has increased and yet a large part of the industry remains on furlough. And this still remains the case.

  10. scruffy

    Rob: my experience is from the South East so cannot speak for Torbay. But it is often the case that solicitors and conveyancers hold back the Local Search application until the pre-contract enquiries are dealt with AND the mortgage offer is in. Ever so helpfully, they believe in not wasting their clients money until these other aspects are cleared, leading many to blame LAs for the delay whereas the delay has been caused by a the delayed search application itself.

  11. #ImpressiveConveyancing

    I typed a reply then read in reverse Alan Murray’s post and deleted mine.

    Spot on response Alan – as always.

    Easy solutions on a plate for the decision-makers, especially the CLC……





You must be logged in to report this comment!

Comments are closed.

Thank you for signing up to our newsletter, we have sent you an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Additionally if you would like to create a free EYE account which allows you to comment on news stories and manage your email subscriptions please enter a password below.