Office of Fair Trading
2-6 Salisbury Square
4th February 2013
Re: Lenders Conveyancing Panels
We would like to take this opportunity of arranging a time to come and speak with you about the concerns we have following the latest announcements of culls of firms from the Santander conveyancing panels.
On January 23rd at Prime Minister’s Questions, MP Dan Rogerson asked the Prime Minister; “Given the Prime Minister’s keen interest in single markets, will he look at mortgage lenders restricting legal work to a small number of larger firms and depriving local practices of the work that keeps them at the heart of local high streets in a thriving small business economy?”
The Prime Minister’s response was to say that he is going to have a close look at the matter.
We welcome the fact that this matter has been brought to the Prime Minister’s attention as we see it as an Abuse of Dominant Position by the mortgage lenders which is having a detrimental effect on consumer choice and local high streets.
We are familiar with the response given by the OFT as to this issue when concerns were raised last year at the time that several lenders removed substantial numbers of firms. Your stance was that the consumer is adequately protected by having a choice of solicitors from within these panels from which to purchase conveyancing services.
There are two factors in relation to the latest developments, which in our opinion alter the safeguards for the consumer. The Law Society operates a scheme with which you are probably familiar, called the Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS), and has marketed the scheme to the lenders as resolving their concerns over alleged mortgage fraud by solicitors firms. Santander requires all its solicitors firms to be CQS accredited by the end of March 2013. There are currently in the order of 3000 firms who are likely to be accredited by that time, from a total sum 6000 firms who undertook conveyancing services in 2010 when this practice of removing firms from panels began. A 50% reduction in the choice of solicitors firms is one factor. At what level does the OFT investigate?
When the number of solicitors firms reduces to 1500 will the consumer have an adequate choice as it is very likely that that will be the outcome. ING require a panel firm to conduct at least 12 conveyancing transactions each month and there are less than 1400 firms in the country who can meet those criteria.
We bring to your knowledge the fact that lenders are withdrawing mortgage products if the consumer does not instruct the lender’s own choice of conveyancer. This is potentially making the conclusion of contracts subject to acceptance by the other party of supplementary obligations in breach of section 18(2) (d) of the 1998 Act.
We would like the opportunity to come and speak to you as we may launch or compile a formal complaint.
A P Bassett Solicitors