One in seven councils in England are failing to meet property search targets, taking anything from one to 95 days to get the paperwork done, new research has found.
There is also a large disparity in what a council charges for a property search, varying from £44 to £333, a difference of 658%, according to the study from house hunter advice site Move iQ.
Researchers analysed figures submitted by all 326 English local authorities, and found a gulf in what councils charge for the searches, which are a compulsory cost for anyone buying a home.
Some 78% of councils charge more than £100 for a standard residential land search, which can take minutes to complete as it requires a council employee to search a computer database. A quarter of councils charge more than £150.
Anyone buying a property in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham must pay £333.50 and wait 20 days for a property search while in Brent it is £320 and takes 10 days to complete a search.
At the other end of the scale, Wakefield council in Yorkshire charges just £44 and takes just a day to return search results.
The analysis also shows that 15% of councils are failing to meet a Government target that requires councils to complete searches in 10 days or less. The worst is Stratford-on-Avon district council which takes 95 days to carry out a search. Across England, just 12% of councils complete the task in three days or less.
The findings come six months after the Government vowed to overhaul lengthy delays in the process and the Minister for Housing Heather Wheeler wrote to all local authorities to remind them of the target.
‘The Prime Minister has pledged to fix what she herself describes as Britain’s broken housing market, yet our research reveals that councils across the country are adding needless delays and expense to the home buying process,’ said Phil Spencer, property expert and co-founder of Move iQ.
‘Conducting a standard search can take minutes, but just eight councils were able to turn round a search request in a day and a disgracefully high proportion of councils are failing to meet the Government’s 10 day target,’ he pointed out.
‘Whatever the individual councils’ reasons for the delays, such as a lack of resources or lack of staff, it’s clearly unacceptable to force buyers to wait up to three months for what should be a routine process. Then the arbitrary fees charged by different councils have created a postcode lottery where a search in one area can cost seven times more than it would in another,’ he explained.
‘At times the process of buying a home can seem stacked in favour of sellers rather than buyers. In the current market, buyers need all the help they can get and councils should be made to end this unjustifiable red tape minefield with a cap on fees,’ he added.
Responding to Move iQ’s research, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said the continued delays to searches by some councils were ‘unacceptable’, adding that it is reviewing the data with a view to taking ‘appropriate action’ against councils breaching the 10 day target.