The Legal Ombudsman has published new guidance for first time buyers as a result of conveyancing problems topping the list of legal complaints.
Conveyancing is the most complained about area of law in England and Wales – accounting for 23 per cent of all complaints to the Legal Ombudsman, which resolves around 7,500 complaints each year.
Most of the complaints concern alleged failures to advise clients appropriately, delays, or poor information about charges.
The Legal Ombudsman says that in one instance, a first time buyer was asked to spend £20,000 on outstanding repairs in a newly bought flat. The conveyancing firm handling the sale had known about the costs before the buyer - Hajnalka Semsei from London - signed the contract. But the firm failed to inform her.
When the buyer complained to the firm, it accepted that it had made a mistake – having received a letter about the costs before she completed the sale – but offered just an £800 refund of its fees.
The Legal Ombudsman has recommended that the conveyancing company should pay the full £20,000 plus compensation. The firm has agreed.
Now the Ombudsman has issued new guidance for first time buyers.
It says checking that the appropriate planning permissions are in place, advising on any ongoing financial obligations that come with the property, and raising enquiries with the seller about matters such as boundary responsibilities are in the remit of conveyancing lawyers, while building and structural issues generally are not.
“This case demonstrates how daunting the world of first time buying can be. There are lots of things to sort out when buying a house, such as surveys, checking boundary responsibilities, and exchanging contracts, which you should expect your conveyancing lawyer to take care of. However, as we have seen, sometimes things can go wrong” explains Kathryn King, interim Chief Ombudsman.
She says unhappy clients should complain to their lawyer in the first instance and give them eight weeks to reply. If they don’t respond within that time, or the client is unhappy with the reply, then they can take their complaint to the Legal Ombudsman
The new guidance is available here.