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Conveyancing IT crash - company slammed for ‘wall of silence’

A consultancy specialising in data protection issues has sharply criticised the Simplify Group for its ongoing lack of communications over its data breach. 

Simplify was the victim of a cyber attack in early November, which forced it to take down its systems. The incident has affected Premier Property Lawyers, JS Law, DC Law and Advantage Property Lawyers, with many transactions stalled, and customers are still waiting to hear if their data was put at risk.

Data breach law firm Hayes Connor says it’s been contacted by a number of people who are worried about the impact this could have on them and the firm is calling for Simplify to provide an update, saying customers have been met with a ‘wall of silence’ so far.

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“Buying or selling a home is one of the most stressful times for anyone at the best of times, so to be facing extra worry is something none of these people want – especially just before Christmas” says Richard Forrest, legal director at Hayes Connor.

“To make matters worse we are still unclear exactly what has happened and what data has been breached. Home moves involve a huge amount of personal data which can be very valuable to the wrong sort of people so Simplify have a duty to all of their customers to let people know what has happened, why and how exactly they have been affected, and to do so immediately.

“Any further delay will just add to the worry people are already suffering just when they least need that extra stress.”

Hayes Connor is dealing with the aftermath of an increasing number of cyber-attacks involving data breaches, where data is often ending up on the dark web.

“Unfortunately, cyber attacks like the one experienced by Simplify are increasing, as cyber criminals become ever more sophisticated. Criminals can make a lot of money selling data on the dark web, so to find out your data has been put at risk is incredibly stressful” adds Forrest.

“Businesses need to do more to keep their customers’ data safe, but also to respond quickly when cyber attacks happen. The last thing worried people need is a wall of silence.”

The police have been called in to investigate the Simplify hack but no public comment has been made to confirm the cause, damage or timescale for work to resume as normal.

A Conservative MP has raised the possibility of a formal investigation into the incident, and compensation to consumers hit by the problem.

Bob Blackman - a member of the House of Commons Levelling Up, Housing and Communities committee - has told The Express newspaper: “Whilst [Simplify] are working around the clock to restore their systems, we have heard numerous stories of home buyers not being able to complete or exchange. 

“Indeed we have heard several stories of people having to sleep in their cars as they had to leave their old house and had not been able to complete on their new home. I would certainly welcome an investigation by [the] committee to investigate how this happened and what steps are been taken to prevent such an incident from happening again. Whilst it remains down to [Simplify] how they handle the situation, I would welcome any efforts to offer some sort of compensation.”

Simplify itself continues to be almost completely silent on the issue, merely giving an occasional website update.

The latest message says: “An ever-growing proportion of our conveyancing colleagues are back up and running on core systems and progressing transactions. We continue to prioritise the most urgent cases, and are working with clients to help them move forward towards exchange and completion We very much regret any uncertainty and disruption that our clients and others may have experienced. Our team, supported by external experts, are working non-stop to get the remainder of our systems safely back up and running, with progress being made every day.

"For any queries or an update on your case please contact your conveyancer or call: Premier Property Lawyers on 0345 234 0240 or DC Law on 01704 511 300 or JS Law on 01858 378 041.”

  • Rob Hailstone

    I appreciate with the police possibly involved, and no doubt insurers and others, that certain things need to be kept under wraps, but there is an element of tumbleweed blowing around. Let’s hope we get a meaningful update and explanation soon.

  • Russell Quirk

    The comms from Simplify have been handed terribly - because there hasn’t been any.

    A business of this size with a crisis affecting so many thousands of customers, agents and staff should have put a crisis PR strategy in play from day one. You can always decide WHAT to say day to day. But you can’t just say NOTHING except for a bland message on your website. Silence is indicative of a situation that is even more sinister than perhaps it is. It will worry stakeholders far more than a regular dialogue even if this dialogue is uncomfortable.
    It also smacks of arrogance and apathy and for years into the future agents and customers will more remember the WAY this debacle was handled over and above what the problem itself was.

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    Nice pitch.

     
    Algarve  Investor

    He's right, though, isn't he?

     
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    CLC should be disbanded for their regulation of large conveyancing outfits up to this point, let alone the current debacle.

  • Rob Hailstone

    Simplify Group – Update

    17 December, 2021

    The CLC has been in constant touch with managers at Simplify since the incident was first reported. The regulated law firms within the Simplify group that were involved in the incident were Premier Property Lawyers, DC Law and JS Law.

    Our priorities have been to ensure the security of client monies, the progression of transactions as soon as that was safely possible, and that clients should be able to move their matter to another conveyancer if that was what they felt most appropriate for them. In addition to daily contact by email and phone we have had two in-depth face to face meetings on site and this week another comprehensive online meeting to review progress in all areas. We continue to monitor very closely adherence to the CLC’s regulatory requirements in the interest of client protection.

    Simplify rightly took a cautious approach to the restoration of systems and developed different processes to enable transactions to progress. The group continues to make progress and this is reflected in the steep fall we have seen in the number of contacts from Simplify’s clients to the CLC from a peak in the second week after the incident. As always, the CLC is responding to all contacts and complaints it receives. Service complaints, including issues of delay, should be addressed first by the practice and referred to the Legal Ombudsman if the complainant is not satisfied. Simplify has increased their complaints handling resource to ensure that they remain compliant with the CLC’s regulatory requirements.

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