Conveyancing Group urges the government to put leasehold reform back on the agenda

Conveyancing bodies, comprising the Conveyancing Association, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, Bold Legal Group and the Society of Licensed Conveyancers, have combined forces under the banner The Legal Sector Group, and delivered a list of alternative initiatives for a ’21st century’ leasehold process to the new housing minister, Alok Sharma. 

A plan to speed up the conveyancing process

Following consultation with various bodies, including with the Law Society, the Legal Sector Group last week published an eight-point plan which it argued would reduce the potential for leasehold abuse, speed up the conveyancing process, increase consumer certainty and remove unreasonable costs. The proposals were submitted in a letter to the Housing Minister and will also be presented to the Law Commission.

Speaking about the Group’s plan, Beth Rudolf, director of delivery at the Conveyancing Association, said the initiatives ‘point the way ahead for a 21st century leasehold process’ and urged ‘the powers that be to put in place a programme of change’.

So what exactly is the Legal Sector Group proposing, and how will its plans address the difficulties facing leasehold property? Well, it has proposed what it calls reasonable fees for administrative activities, and a tariff of fees for quantifiable activities. The group suggests this could be set up by RICS or the housing secretary.

The Group’s plan suggests that lease administrators should be obligated to provide information in a certain time frame, similar to those set out in the Leasehold Property Enquiry Form (LPE1). The plan also suggest that freehold management or lease administrators should be made to join a redress scheme, and that HM Land Registry should be allowed to dis-apply restrictions requiring a compliance certificate where a conveyancer can provide evidence of compliance with lease terms in some other way.

The Group also says that all future leasehold property marketing should be clear and certain, and should include disclosed information on the remaining term of the lease, the ground rent, the nature of rent review clauses, the annual service charge and charges imposed by the lease administrator for services in connection with the sale, ongoing ownership and property purchase.

Simon Law, chair of the Society of Licensed Conveyancers, told the Law Society Gazette it was ‘gratifying’ that the all sectors of the legal profession, solicitors, licensed conveyancers and chartered legal executives, had come together to arrive at a common set of proposals for the government and Law Commission to consider:

‘There is no individual or party better placed than those legal professionals who serve their clients day-in and day-out in buying and selling leasehold properties to architect the much-needed reforms set out in these proposals,’ he said.

Conveyancers have long campaigned for leasehold reform. Hopes had been raised last year when the then Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell said he was keen to work with interested parties to improve leaseholders’ experience of home ownership. Unfortunately, Mr Barwell lost his seat in June’s General Election, and has now been appointed Downing Street chief of staff, so the fate of the initiative is now in the balance.  

The Law Society conveyancing and land law committee

But what of the Law Society? How has it responded to the Legal Sector Group’s proposals? Well, a Law Society spokesperson said it’s conveyancing and land law committee has an ongoing programme of work to provide recommendations when the law around leasehold can be improved for everyone’s benefit. He also said those activities included engaging with the Legal Sector Group:

‘However, problems as complex as those arising in leasehold law cannot be solved with simple answers,’ he added.

‘Other proposals advanced, particularly around fixed leasehold terms and set timescales, raise real questions of unintended consequences and practical enforcement. ‘

‘While the Law Society could not support the entire set of recommendations put forward by the Legal Sector Group, we welcome their interesting contribution on this important issue and look forward to working with them further.’

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