Phil Spencer: Council delays are hurting housing market 

TV star Phil Spencer says councils countrywide are ‘adding needless delays and expense to the homebuying process’

Some of the country’s local authorities stand accused today of adding to Britain’s ‘broken’ housing market by obstructing people wishing to buy a home.

The accusation has been made by Phil Spencer, television property expert and co-founder of website Move iQ. 

He says councils countrywide ‘are adding needless delays and expense to the homebuying process’. The findings could prompt the Government to intervene.

Phil Spencer, television property expert and co-founder of website Move iQ, with Kirstie Allsopp, who presented Location, Location, Location

Move iQ has carried out exhaustive research into the fees each of England’s 326 local authorities levy when a solicitor asks them to carry out a property search on behalf of a home buyer. 

It has also documented the time it takes each authority to undertake this work. 

Such searches are a necessary part of the conveyancing work that must be completed before a home is bought and a lender is prepared to grant a mortgage.

A local authority search enables a buyer – and mortgage lender – to know of future plans that may impact on the property’s value, for example a proposed housing development.

It also outlines who is responsible for maintaining roads and paths adjoining the property. 

Move iQ’s research indicates that one council in seven is failing to meet a Government target to complete searches in ten days or less. 

While 12 per cent of councils complete the task in three days or less, some are taking more than 25 days. Worst offenders are Stratford-upon-Avon (95 days), Wyre Forest (40 days), Rochford, Herefordshire and Epping Forest (all 25 days).

On fees, 78 per cent of local authorities now charge more than £100 for a standard residential land search. 

But the range is dramatic, from £44 (Wakefield) to £333.50 (Hammersmith and Fulham). 

Hammersmith and Fulham says that the average waiting time in September for a search was 5.98 days. It also says that if someone pays online for a search, the charge is £280.50. 

The Government has already stated that delays in carrying out searches are ‘unacceptable’.

Over the summer, the Government launched the Local Land Charges digital register to help cut search waiting times. 

This enables homebuyers to use the Land Registry for part of the required search work, but they must still go to a local authority for details of planned developments.

Spencer told The Mail on Sunday: ‘It is unacceptable to force buyers to wait up to three months for what should be a routine process.’