Obtaining Conveyancing Searches

For the past few years obtaining the conveyancing searches has been the responsibility of the home information pack provider since the major ones, the local authority search and drainage & water search, were a compulsory part of it. Now that HIPs have been suspended the searches must be obtained by the purchaser (or his conveyancer).

Searches should always be done when buying a property since anything contained in a register open to public inspection is generally considered to be within the knowledge of the purchaser whether or not he has inspected that register (this is covered in the Standard Conditions of Sale). In fact, if a mortgage is being used to aid the purchase then conveyancers must comply with a standing instruction issued by the council of mortgage lenders on behalf of their members to “make all necessary searches and enquiries”.

Types of Search

The two main types of search are the local authority search and the drainage & water search and both should be done for all properties. Many conveyancers will insist on carrying out an environmental search (sometimes called a contaminated land search) and all should at least offer their client the option. Some firms will carry out a chancel liability search in every case and others only where there is reason to believe a risk may exist, such as if the property is in the vicinity of a medieval church.

There are other searches which only apply in certain parts of the country, such as coal mining, Cheshire brine mining, tin mining etc.

The Local Authority Search

This is actually two searches in one, the CON29R (enquiries of the local authority) and LLC1 (search of the local land charges register). It can be done, as all searches can, via a personal search agent though some say the best results tend to come direct from the local authority. Each authority sets its own fee there an applicant needs to enquire about the fee before submitting an application. The two forms are, as mentioned, the CON29R and the LLC1.

Filling in the forms is fairly self explanatory though one important section of the CON29R that is sometimes overlooked is box 2, which asks which roadways are to be searched. This is done to find out which roads are publicly adopted. The council will automatically check the road fronting the property and this is often sufficient however there may be a back road you’d like to know about, or it may be that there is an area of land between the property and the road which may or may not be part of the highway. If it is not there may be a concern as to whether adequate rights of way to reach the highway exist. Two plans (copies of the filed plan from the official copies are usually used) need to be attached to the application and it is a good idea to mark them with the roads you would like searched (for example by hatching or shading them) and make reference to the plans in box 2 of the CON29R. As well as advising on road adoption the CON29R asks about planning permissions relating to the property, whether it is a listed building, enforcement notices etc.

Note that it will not provide information about neighbouring properties, such as planning applications submitted in respect of them, and it will not advise which council tax band the property is in.

The LLC1 is a search of the local land charges register. This register is split into 12 parts, the most important ones being the general financial charges register, which reveals any financial charges imposed on the property by the council for works done (such as making up a road or pest control in an abandoned property) for which the cost is not yet known, the specific financial charges register, which is similar but contains details of charges for which the cost is known, the planning register, which contains details of any applications for planning permission in relation to the property including whether they were granted, refused or are pending, the miscellaneous charges register which contains any charges which don’t fit into another category and the listed buildings charges register.

The Drainage & Water Search

This search shows whether the property is connected to the public sewerage and mains water system, including maps showing the run of the public mains and sewers. It also reveals other information such as whether there is a water meter and if not, whether one will be installed upon a change of ownership.

It can be ordered direct from the water authority responsible for the property using form CON29DW (which can be downloaded from most water authorities’ websites) and enclosing a cheque for the appropriate fee, which varies from authority to authority.

Environmental Search / Contaminated Land Report

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 each local authority is obliged to prepare a register of the land within its jurisdiction which shows whether land is “contaminated”. If land is found to be contaminated and the original polluter cannot be located then the owner for the time being can be ordered to pay the cost of any necessary clean up. This could potentially be extremely expensive and an environmental search will give an opinion, based on past land uses, as to whether the land is likely to be contaminated. It is only a desktop survey (i.e. not a physical inspection) and is not definitive but it can certainly offer a buyer some comfort.

There are a number of providers on the market such as the Coal Authority, Jordans or the Landmark Group. Prices tend to be around £50 and turnaround times are usually quite quick, perhaps 2-3 days.

Chancel Liability Searches

Chancel repair liability is a type of medieval tax imposed on people who bought land from the church. A purchaser of land would take on an obligation to pay for the cost, or part of the cost, of repairing the chancel (steeple) of the church. These obligations are overriding interests, meaning they do not need to be mentioned in the deeds to be enforceable. As a result it can be difficult to know whether they exist.

There are two types of chancel liability search. The basic search will be cheaper and cost around £15. This will simply state whether the property is in a parish in which some properties may have a risk of liability. If a clear search is revealed this is all that is required. If however the search reveals a potential risk, there are two options, either purchase indemnity insurance (a one of payment of around £60) or carry out a further search. This further search will cost around £100 though its value is questionable. It is not definitive so indemnity insurance may still be required (and in any case is cheaper) and if it does reveal a liability then indemnity insurance cannot be obtained. As a result most conveyancers will either do the basic search and recommend insurance if a risk is revealed, or do no search at all.

There are a number of online providers of Chancel searches which can be found via a simple Google search.

Coal Mining & Cheshire Brine

These two have now been amalgamated into one search, which is ordered from the Coal Authority via its website, groundstability.com. The cost is £27 plus VAT. The purpose of the search is to advise whether the property is in the likely zone of influence of any past coal or brining mining activity. Obviously this type of mining activity only affects certain parts of the country and before carrying out the search you can check, free of charge, whether a search is required.

Tin Mining Searches

Tin mining was carried out mostly in Devon and Cornwall and like coal and brine mining, it can cause the ground to be unstable and lead to subsidence. It is necessary therefore to carry out a search if you know or suspect the property to be in a tin mining area. The search is ordered through Cornwall Consultants to who you should send a cheque for their fee £52 at the time of writing but check with them first) and a plan of the property, together with a covering letter including of course the property address.

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