Interview with Steve Davies (IPSA)

Welcome to Steve Davies, CEO of The Association of Independent Personal Search Agents (IPSA) who has joined us to answer some questions in relation to personal and local authority searches.

IPSA have recently released claims that numerous local authorities are providing non-compliant searches, we wanted to hear more about this issue and how IPSA viewed the industry as a whole.

Q. Are personal searches really quite similar to the poor relative of the Official Local Authority search. Personal Local Authority searches aim to be as good as the official search but are often found lacking or not up to the job?

A. Historically Personal Searches have lacked some information, this has been due to Local Authorities illegally restricting access to data, however with the advent of the Home Information Pack regulations, Personal Searches and LA searches must be comparable and LAs should no longer restrict information in such a way, therefore the private reports are now on a par for quality. Certain organisations and particularly individuals have tried to portray Personal Searches as inferior, however since the early 90’s the volume of personal searches has grown to become a large percentage of the market. I believe this has been due to a number of factors. Customer service, price, consistent quality to name but a few. Conveyancers and Solicitors have embraced the Personal Search because of these reasons, but also because of the appalling service from many local authorities in the past, which many customers have never forgotten, despite improvements in recent years.

Q. The Association of Independent Personal Search Agents (IPSA) have recently given guidance to their members to avoid official searches from various councils, 18 in total. There are some large City Councils listed who IPSA allege are not producing compliant information. What kind of non-compliance are we talking about and how does this affect the consumer?

A. All relate to requirements under Schedule 6 of the Home Information Pack regs, these requirements have been put in place to protect the consumer. Many Local Authority searches do not meet the general requirements under the regulations and the simplest example is a search containing answers to enquiries, without the enquiries being included in the report. To a buyer viewing a HIP this type of report is worthless. Others have not included details of any complaints and redress procedures, details of who is responsible for negligent answers or insurance held.

Q. From your experience, can you tell us a little about the qualifications and experience needed to carry out a local authority search, both as a personal search agent and as a local authority employee.

A. The majority of Personal Search agents are members of IPSA and would have to sign up to the code of practice, pass an entrance examination and provide sample reports and case studies in order to be accepted as a member. Many Local Authority Land Charges staff have been in the job for many years and know their borough and their registers very well, unfortunately there are often instances where the Land Charges officer is off work and temporary staff or council staff from other departments are deployed without adequate training.

Q. We have received numerous emails about training as a search agent in 2 days, is this possible or legitimate?

A. Unfortunately training companies have sprung up offering a business opportunity and offering this kind of course. An IPSA member would have to sign up to the code of practice, pass an entrance examination and provide sample reports and case studies in order to be accepted as a member, ongoing training and accreditation is then available for members to continue their professional development. This type of basic 2 day course alone would not be adequate to equip an individual to qualify as an IPSA member. Most legitimate training courses include classroom training for at least 3 days and field training for several weeks or months

Q. It would be hard to disagree that some personal searches and the companies carrying them out have gained a bad reputation, often due to poor quality. How has this come about and has this tarnished the whole industry.

A. We believe this has been due to the flawed introduction of the HIP regulations and the depressed housing market which has brought newcomers into the industry without adequate training, many of whom are not members of a professional association and are producing reports to a heavily discounted price. Most of them have received no training whatsoever and think they can produce reports without formal training or professional levels of conduct.

Q. From recent statements we have read are we correct in believing you are not a great fan of AHIPP or the HIP code. Do they offer the protection to consumers that could be perceived?

A. We believe the HIP code goes some way to protect consumers, and the Search Code, the point we were making is that many of the companies who have rolled over owing debts to IPSA members were AHIPP members and there has been no protection from the effects of these failures for consumers or IPSA members.

Q. Grant Shapps has recently re-affirmed his pledge to scrap HIPs. What do you think will happen in regard to HIPs and personal local authority searches if the Conservatives win the next election and how will this affect your members?

A. We need to remember that personal search companies were in existence for 30 years before the introduction of HIPs. Prior to HIPs the Personal Search market increased year on year due to the popularity of the report and the customer service offered by private companies against the poor level of service offered by the public sector. I see no reason why that trend would not be revived and continue. If the conservatives were elected, one of two things will happen, HIPs will be kept under a different guise, or they will be scrapped, whichever happens there is a place for the Personal Search Agent.

Q. Has the inclusion of local and water searches within a HIP been detrimental to both the image of the HIP and personal searches?

A. No.

Q. We have recently heard complaints by well respected personal search agencies of ‘foul play’ by local authorities. Are personal search agents competing against competition they can not match or ever hope to beat?

A. Local Authorities have been guilty of anti competitive behaviour, this was proven by the OFT report in 2005, Central Government have failed to implement the OFT recommendations in full and have been heavily influenced in favour of the Local Authorities and their fundraising efforts. The recent Charges Regulations have given Local Authorities an excuse to further abuse their dominant position as data holders and continue to flout European Law, which renders the Charges Regulations unworkable.

Q. Some Local authorities are now offering ‘free’ refreshes of their searches which are good if a property does not sell for an extended period. Are your members offering similar?

A. Some PSCs are also offering free refreshers, however whether the refresher is offered by the PSC or the LA the cost of these must be built into the overall cost somewhere and many consumers may be contributing towards the cost of a refresher, which may never be needed or used.

Q. The industry has undoubtedly changed since the introduction of HIPs. What are IPSA future plans are where will the industry be in a years time?

A. That really depends on the result of the General Election and the actions of government, any answer to this question would be mere speculation.

Many thanks to Steve Davies for taking the time out to answer our questions. Further information can be found out about IPSA via their website

We look forward to your thoughts and comments. If any local authority search departments who read this would be interested in a similar interview please do get in touch.

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