It takes between eight and twelve weeks on average to complete the purchase of a new home. Many factors determine how long the conveyancing process will take. However, solicitors frequently cite the local land charges search as a cause of delay. But what are local land charges, and why do they matter?
‘The local land charges search is an important part of the checks we carry out for home buyers,’ explains Emma Sidney, a Conveyancer in the Residential Property team with Geoffrey Leaver Solicitors. ‘It reveals whether your new home is affected by certain restrictions or charges, which could impact on its value or future use.’ Here she takes a closer look and answers some of your questions, including how to speed things up.
What are local land charges?
Legislation sets out the various categories of local land charge. Individually they are usually created by a local authority or some other public body and affect specific areas or properties.
Many are financial charges, binding on landowners. For example, a public body may have the right to recover advance payments made under a compulsory order or to seek contributions towards the cost of highway works from adjoining landowners. The law defines these rights as local land charges, registerable against affected properties.
Other local land charges cover planning matters, such as conditions attached to permissions, which must be complied with, smoke control zone orders, conservation area and listed buildings designations. Local authorities have historically maintained registers of all the local land charges affecting properties in their area.
So, how do I find out about local land charges?
Usually, your conveyancer will make a local land charges search by submitting a standard form (LLC1) to the local authority for the property you are buying. This will reveal any local land charges that affect it.
Unfortunately, the time local authorities take to process a local land charges search varies a lot. Some give results in 48 hours, while the slowest may take up to 10 weeks.
Do I really need a local land charges search?
A local land charges search is part of the standard due diligence checks your conveyancer should make.
Often searches come back clear, but a local land charge is not necessarily something to worry about. For example, the existence of a tree preservation order is unlikely to affect your home adversely. However, it is important to understand the implications. Work to the tree without the requisite consent could result in a hefty fine.
On the other hand, some local land charges may be more of an issue if they involve financial liabilities. This can be when having an experienced solicitor on board can really help. Not only can they evaluate the result, but they can also advise you on what to do next. It may not always be possible to remove the charge, but at least you can make an informed decision. For example, you may want to renegotiate the terms of your purchase, seek a price reduction, or even choose not to proceed.
My solicitor is still waiting for the local authority search. Is this the same thing?
People often use the terms ‘local land charge search’ and ‘local authority search’ interchangeably.
However, the local authority keeps records of many other statutory matters, which your conveyancer will investigate, as well as local land charges. For example, they will check whether the roads abutting the property are public. If they are not, they will examine the property’s rights of access and any potential costs. They will ask about planning decisions, building regulations approvals, proposed road schemes and many other things. These may not be local land charges, but they could affect the use of your new home.
Another standard form (CON 29) covers these additional matters. Your conveyancer will submit this to the local authority at the same time as the LLCI. So, you could say the local land charges search forms part of the local authority search.
With most things now online, why are searches still taking so long?
Until recently, each local authority maintained the local land charges register for properties in their area. Some local authorities are better resourced, or more efficient, than others and this can affect the time taken to process the search.
However, this is changing. The Land Registry, which also maintains the register of title to properties, is taking over responsibility from local authorities. This transfer is incremental and, so far, the Land Registry covers 49 local authority areas. Its goal is to become the sole hub for local land charges by 2025. If the Land Registry holds the digitised local land charges register for an area, we can access that information instantly.
If the local authority still maintains the local land charges register, your conveyancer can tell you how long searches are taking.
What can I do to speed the process up?
How long a local authority takes to complete a search may be beyond your control, but you can help speed things up.
First, choose a solicitor who takes the initiative and who will give your purchase their close personal attention. There is no substitute for getting off to a good start by submitting all the relevant searches early on. Your solicitors may ask for an advance payment so they can put this in hand. Responding promptly will keep the turnaround time as brief as possible.
Second, where time is critical, consider a personal search. Instructing a specialist search agency will be much quicker than waiting for the local authority. The result will not, however, be covered by the statutory compensation scheme if it contains an error. In addition not all lenders will accept a personal search, so if you are taking out a mortgage this may not be an option. Your solicitor can clarify your lender’s requirements and advise on the best way forward. For example, many lenders will accept a personal search if it meets certain standards or insurance cover is in place.
As your solicitor, we will complete the searches appropriate to your circumstances as expeditiously as possible. We will always keep you informed and, if there is a delay, work hard to keep your transaction on track.
How we can help
For further information, please contact Emma Sidney in the Residential Property team on 01908 689351 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Geoffrey Leaver Solicitors has offices in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.