What is a local authority conveyancing search – and who cares?

06 Jun 2013

Who cares? Every property buyer should. The information revealed in the search could lead you to renegotiate a lower price or to pull out of the purchase entirely. The search is that important.

The local authority search is the main conveyancing data search carried out by conveyancing solicitors across England & Wales when buying property for their clients, along with an Environmental Data search, Drainage and Water (CON29DW) search and a Chancel Repair data search. Anything less, and your conveyancer may be taking a risk with your property purchase.

The local authority search must always be made when you require mortgage funding for your property purchase, as lenders will insist on it. Indeed, all conveyancers should advise you to do one, whether mortgage funding is required or not.

The local authority search is submitted by conveyancing solicitors when they first receive a copy of the seller's title deeds plan from the seller's conveyancer – as a plan is needed to identify the extent of the property boundaries that require searching.

The local authority search is actually the name given to the combination of two searches carried out at the local authority affecting the property in question: the Local Land Charges Register search (submitted by conveyancing solicitors on Form LLC1), and Enquiries of Local Authority (similarly submitted on Forms CON29R and CON29O). Both are searches at the Council of their records of data affecting the property being bought. No physical inspection is carried out of the property, and only information about the specific property being searched against is given:

Local Land Charges Register search (on Form LLC1)

Each local authority must maintain a Local Land Charges Register for its own administrative area. The purpose is to record binding and enforceable entries against owners of properties. The Register is comprised of twelve parts:

Part 1 – General financial charges
Part 2 – Specific financial charges
Part 3 – Planning charges
Part 4 – Miscellaneous charges
Part 5 – Fenland ways maintenance charge
Part 6 – Land compensation charges
Part 7 – New towns charges
Part 8 – Civil aviation charges
Part 9 – Opencast coal charges
Part 10 – Listed building charges
Part 11 – Light obstruction notices
Part 12 – Drainage scheme charges

Form LLC1 is a search of the Local Land Charges Register dealing with restrictions and prohibitions resulting in a charge being registered against the property. Entries revealed in the LLC1 can include financial charges, conditional planning permissions, planning agreements, tree preservation orders, enforcement notices, conservation areas, listed buildings and listed building consents, article 4 directions etc. LLC1 registrations are binding on successive owners. Any pending proposals would be shown on the results of the below CON29 search.

Enquiries of Local Authority (CON29R) – these act as 'warning' questions as some information given in reply may ultimately result in a Local Land Charge

The Enquiries relate to a multitude of general matters summarised as follows:

Q 1 Planning and Building Regulation consents that have been granted
Q 2 What roads and footpaths are highways
Q 3 Is the property affected by:
 – any road or rail scheme
 – any statutory notices outstanding
 – any breach of building or planning control
 – a conservation area
 – a compulsory purchase order
 – environmental contamination
 – radon gas

The combination of the LLC1 and CON29R searches are considered the 'standard' local authority search. However, for an additional fee, there are a variety of optional enquires that can also be made, which conveyancers know to do on a case-by-case basis where relevant to the specific property and its location.

Indeed it is possible to go further and ask bespoke questions, again for a further fee, albeit which the Council are free to answer at their discretion.

How much does a local authority search cost?

There are two choices to obtaining a search:

1. The usual method is to send the prescribed Forms direct to the local authority, and their trained and dedicated Land Charges team who compile the Local Land Charges Register and conduct property reaches will provide replies by checking their official data records. Each local authority charge their own fee, and each will take a different amount of time to deliver the result of the search. This is referred to as an "official" local authority search. Any follow-up questions are directed straight back to the team for query or clarification. The result will be signed by an officer of the council and only local authorities are permitted to produce and sign a Certificate of Search.

2. Commercial search providers – unconnected with the Council – exist who will send their employees/contractors to personally visit the Council offices and to self interpret the Council's data. Technically any of us could do this. However, as a result, the turnaround time may be quicker (though searches rarely delay a property deal if the conveyancer speaks with the Council and invites a prompt result) and the cost will be less than an official search. These are commonly referred to as "personal" searches.

However, Surrey Heath Borough Council – just as an example – currently warn that the insurance of such providers should be checked for limitations, and that some providers are simply relying on claims on their business insurance as a substitute for actually providing some information. Still further, Surrey Heath report that the Local Land Charges Institute strongly recommends that a full official search is always used.

So important are the official records that the Land Registry have recently announced that they are looking to take over provision of the data as part of their workings with numerous Councils over a recent trial.

The official search is traditional and remains the most popular, not because of the historic refusal by mortgage lenders to accept personal searches, but because it is local authority data direct from the 'horse's mouth'. Indeed, both search methods have one thing in common, the information must come from the local authoritative source (your local council).

However, the temptation for some conveyancers is to compete solely on price to win customers, and if they can obtain searches for less, then their overall fees appear less. This can mean that the official search is abandoned in favour of the lower priced personal search option, and not necessarily by informing their clients – you – that this has taken place.

However, there are conveyancers who believe that the non-official searches are as good as the official searches, whatever the price, as the data should be the same in both. But this is not universally the belief of all conveyancing solicitors and many conveyancing solicitors will not even recognise personal searches as a suitable alternative – and after all, you are paying them for best advice, and conveyancing solicitors are duty bound by the Law Society to act in your best interests.