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House moves and stamp duty savings at risk as system buckles

·3-min read
house sale
house sale

Frustrated property buyers have flooded the Land Registry with complaints after delays left house moves in jeopardy.

Buyers have risked losing thousands of pounds in stamp duty savings and seeing purchases collapse due to delays at the Government's record office. More than 1,000 complaints about the organisation were made in June alone this year, according to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Telegraph Money.

This represented a 208pc increase in complaints compared with June 2020 and a 253pc rise compared with June 2019. The most common complaints so far this year were about the slow processing of applications.

Buyers and sellers contact the Land Registry when they need to register a lease, or require registration documents, before a property transaction can go through. Hold-ups, especially in the run up to the first stamp duty holiday deadline, risked deals falling through.

William Marriott of Charles Russell Speechlys, the law firm, said: "It’s probable that if a title had not been registered, or if there were outstanding queries with Land Registry, that some transactions would have failed to complete before the deadline."

Buyers who completed before June 30 could save a maximum of £15,000 in tax. Those buying between July and September could save up to £2,500. Tax bands returned to normal from October 1.

Between January and August this year there were 5,666 complaints lodged with the Land Registry, more than the 5,243 recorded in the whole of 2020 and the 4,735 made in 2019.

Mr Marriott said: "The spike in complaints was probably due to the need for certain registrations, corrections and enquiries at Land Registry to have been dealt with in order for transactions to exchange and complete.

"For example, if you were selling a recently purchased property, you would have needed the registration put in your name to prove the title to your purchaser."

It was not uncommon for sellers to ask the Land Registry to amend mistakes or irregularities on a title, which had also delayed sales, he added.

In November last year the Land Registry admitted its processing times were slow but said it was "absolutely determined" to reduce them. It promised to hire 500 new staff to help alleviate the backlog.

Andrew Boast, of SAM Conveyancing, a panel of surveyors and solicitors, said a surge in property sales ahead of the tax deadline and logistical challenges during the pandemic had slowed the service.

"Delays at the Land Registry could also in part be due to sellers extending their leases prior to sale, who then had to wait for the Land Registry to register the extension before a new buyer with a mortgage could complete," he said.

The Land Registry said the higher number of complaints recorded since the end of 2019 was "mainly" due to "changes to the way we defined and handle complaints".

A spokesperson added: "On average we processes over 2 million requests per month with less than 0.05pc of applications resulting in a complaint.

"While we regret any instances in which customers have felt the need to complain we are proud that each day we ensured thousands of property transactions were able to continue uninterrupted at a time when the conveyancing sector was under considerable pressure due to record levels of market activity."

The Land Registry said the number of staff returning to its offices had increased since pandemic restrictions had eased to "optimise performance".

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