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Conveyancers ‘working late into the night’ to meet stamp duty deadline

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

A surge in demand for conveyancing services fuelled by homebuyers rushing to take advantage of the latest stamp duty ‘holiday’ has highlighted fundamental problems within the sector – including the low level of fees. 

An estate agent’s call this week for conveyancers to be more transparent about fee increases after seeing two solicitors quote £6,500 and £2,500 to convey the same property prompted lively reactions about fees and the pressures that conveyancers are working under.

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said solicitors had done a remarkable job helping people achieve their dream moves under the most challenging circumstances.

She said: ‘Stressed and under-pressure solicitors have been working late into the night and over weekends, with little or no work-life balance, to ensure their clients’ transactions are able to complete according to their wishes. 

‘Many factors limiting the speed of a move – delays in the issuing of search results, delays in mortgage offers being issued, problems in the chain and with dependent transactions – are usually outside the control of the conveyancer. They cannot guarantee transactions will complete before the end of June, when the stamp duty holiday begins to taper off.’

Peter Ambrose, managing director of conveyancing specialist The Partnership, said his team had noticed buyers raising an increasing number of enquiries. ‘We are not sure why this is happening – whether it’s just to pass over the responsibility to us as sellers, or whether people simply do not have enough time to analyse cases further to raise only relevant enquiries,’ he said.

Beth Rudolf, director of delivery at the Conveyancing Association, a trade body, said fees have not increased as much as they might have over the years ‘and therefore conveyancers are increasing fees now to cover the extra costs created by the Covid pandemic, lockdown and the increase in market activity we have seen in recent months’.

She said the current challenges have led, for instance, ‘to situations such as having to hold for up to three hours on the phone to get through to overstretched lenders to confirm whether funds will be released’.

Former residential conveyancer Rob Hailstone, chief executive of Bold Legal Group, a practitioner body, said fees have on average been far too low for many years. ‘Add to that the deduction of referral fees and ever increasing PII premiums and it is no wonder that in some cases workload volumes rose ridiculously high and service levels slipped,’ he said.

‘It isn’t difficult to work out why fees have gone up this year, with increased demand for conveyancing services. But, as sure as eggs are eggs, those levels will drop eventually. Firms need to think about that now and what they will charge when they do drop. If firms can demonstrate to their contacts and their clients now that higher fees means a more bespoke service, they will continue to want that.’

The current stamp duty holiday will end on 30 June. Boyce said it was important for solicitors to continue to manage clients’ expectations about completing before then.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)