Nicholas Gurney-Champion considers a recent Treasury paper that outlines wide-ranging modernisation plans for the home-buying process, and a High Court judgment that found conveyancers on both sides of a property transaction liable to a defrauded buyer

Why do we undertake residential conveyancing work? This is a question that I regularly ask myself. I am unsure of the answer. The fees that we charge seem to bear no resemblance to the risk and responsibility we take on and the legal, technical and procedural knowledge that is now required. This may go some way to explaining why residential conveyancing work produces the highest percentage of complaints to the Legal Ombudsman and claims to insurers.

Competition between conveyancing firms is intense, and clear for all to see apart from, it appears, the government. In November 2015, the Treasury issued a paper entitled ‘A Better Deal: Boosting Competition to Bring Down Bills for Families and Firms’. It states in its opening summary, in relation to legal services, that ‘the government will further reduce barriers so that it is easier for alternative business structures, such as supermarkets and estate agents, to offer legal services like conveyancing, probate and litigation in England and Wales’.

It goes on: ‘The government wants to inject innovation into the process of home buying, ensuring it is modernised and provides consumers with different and potentially quicker, simpler and cheaper ways to buy a home. The government wants to look at the wasted cost of transactions falling through and make the whole process more transparent and efficient.’ This is likely to be a far-reaching review of the entire market for buying and selling property.

The government will publish a call for evidence shortly. I urge you to respond, either directly or by feeding into the Law Society’s response. This may be a once in a generation opportunity to have your say and influence how the home-buying process works.

Competition between conveyancing firms is intense, and clear for all to see apart from, it appears, the government

The Purrunsing case

Are you safe to rely upon the client’s due diligence and anti-money laundering checks of your opposite number? The recent case of Purrunsing v A’Court & Co and House Owners Conveyancers Ltd [2016] EWHC 789 (Ch), which concerned the sale of a house in Wimbledon by a fraudster who claimed falsely to be the true registered proprietor of the property, may suggest not. The transaction went through and the buyer’s money was lost. Both the buyer’s conveyancers and the seller’s solicitors were held by the judge to have been in breach of trust to the buyer, and were unable to have the benefit of section 61 of the Trustee Act 1925, as they failed to establish that they had acted reasonably. The seller’s solicitors failed to note numerous warning signs of fraud and to establish a connection between their client and the property. The buyer’s conveyancers had concerns and asked some pertinent questions, but failed to follow them through or obtain adequate answers.

The case is worth reading. It is typical of cases of this nature that many failures in practice and procedure are identified by the court which, with the benefit of hindsight, are significant, but at the time and looked at in isolation may have appeared of little consequence or unconnected. For an in-depth analysis of this case, read our Spotlight on the Property Section website (