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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 September 2005, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
Call to cut cost of house buying
Town Hall
Town Halls have been urged to make their data more accessible
Some people who buy and sell properties may be paying too much for local authority information, a study by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has found.

Councils and water firms in England and Wales should make their records and plans more readily available, it said.

The OFT also called on the government to give clear guidance on the prices the local authorities can charge.

The proposals followed a probe into complaints about the availability of information in the property market.

The market watchdog launched its study in December last year in the wake of complaints about the way some local authorities give access to the information.

Typically home buyers and sellers need to know about things like planning permission, road schemes and building regulations which might affect their purchase.

Charges probed

Obtaining the data - a standard part of the conveyancing process - is known as carrying out a local authority search and is usually done by solicitors.

It found that charges levied by local authorities varied from 55 to 269.

"Property buyers must have all the relevant information that might affect their choice of property," OFT chairman Sir John Vickers said.

"Developing electronic provision and the introduction of the home information packs means that there is an ideal opportunity to set the conditions for a dynamic market that serves consumers well."

The group added that reform of the process is needed before the long-awaited launch of home information packs in 2007.

More information

The idea behind the packs is to speed up the home buying process by obliging sellers to provide much of the information that buyers currently have to obtain themselves.

This will probably include details held by the Land Registry, answers to standard questions and a surveyor's report as well as information from councils and water companies.

The seller will then give the pack to any prospective house buyer.

The OFT also recommends that local authorities ensure they make their information available quickly.

One of the most common criticisms of the current system is that some councils can take several weeks to reply to written requests from house buyers or their lawyers, thus delaying the house buying process.

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