On Monday, Margaret Beckett, Minister of State (Housing), announced the ending transitional insurance cover provision for provision of search information in a HIP. She stated:
“This provision was intended to enable the private sector to conduct property searches in local authorities where access to relevant data were (sic) restricted. But in practice, too many search providers are using this provision even where the data are readily available. Lacking the relevant information, in some cases buyers have had to pay for a second search to be carried out by the local authority. This is not acceptable. Wherever possible, consumers need information rather than insurance; and they should not have to pay for it twice.
The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend Mr. Wright, has already laid provisions introducing a new charging regime for local authority property searches data. As charges become fairer, private sector searchers will have easier access and should therefore not need this insurance cover, which will end on 6 April 2009, coinciding with the introduction of the property information questionnaire.
I want to make sure that consumers find property searches as informative and helpful as possible. I have asked Ted Beardsall, former deputy chief executive of the Land Registry, to convene a working group to consider how these might be made simpler and more easy to use.”
In practice, this date for ending is some 3 months later than expected – a short-lived reprieve for Personal Search Companies (PSCs).
What will be more interesting to see will be how Local Authorities price access to data for PSC’s compared to their own “official search” price. Now LA’s are able to use cost-recovery to increase greatly their charges for access to un-refined data (via the Internet or Personal Search companies), and drive down the differential in price between a Personal and an Official search (e.g. East Staffs BC apparently proposes to change their Personal Search Fee from £11 to £61 whilst reducing their Official Search fee from £90 to £75).
With Central Government having bottled out of setting charges centrally, and leaving LA's to set their own, I envisage a battle on pricing. But with the Local Authorities having the data (possession being nine tenths of the law), and the housing market in serious decline – unless Central Government steps in (I suspect not) - I wonder how much PSC’s will choose to fight rather than just fade away. One way or another I suspect that PSCs will be on their way out ....
P.S. I still think that HIPS will eventually be canned to be replaced by a much reduced requirement for an energy certificate, the newly announced PIQ and other minor bits of information – the only question in my mind is when?