The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: B Company complains for a client, Mr X, the Council failed to carry out a local authority search properly on a property he subsequently purchased as it missed information about a planning issue affecting his proposed use of the property. The Ombudsman will not investigate the complaint as there is another body better placed to investigate the complaint.
- The complainant, who I refer to here as B Company, complains about the way the Council responded to a local authority search carried out for a client, Mr X, when buying a property. As a result, the Council provided information about land Mr X was not intending to buy and missed information on the property he was buying.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe there is another body better placed to consider this complaint. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I have read the papers submitted by B Company and discussed the complaint with an employee of B Company and Mr X. I considered the Council’s responses to B company’s complaints. I explained my draft decision to B Company, Mr X and the Council and considered the comments received.
What I found
- A local authority search refers to providing specific information about a property and the surrounding area for buyers and sellers. There are two parts to a local authority search. The first is a LLC1 which is a local land charges register search. This covers any charges or attendant restrictions about land or property. This can include whether the property is a listed building. The form also covers planning agreements and conditional planning permissions.
- CON 29 is the second part of the search and gives information about public highways, new road proposals, rail schemes or planning decisions that could affect the property. It also gives information about outstanding statutory notices, breaches of planning or building regulations or the existence of a Compulsory Purchase Order.
- There are two types of search. These are official and personal. In an official search form are sent directly to the Council to complete from the local land charges register. In a personal search, this is carried out by an external agency not connected to the Council. The agency works independently getting the information from the register.
- The Local Land Charges Act 1975 provides for a person to claim damages resulting from either non-registration of a local land charge, or from a defective official certificate of search from the Chief Land Registrar. (Local Land Charges Act 1975, section 10)
- The Chief Land Registrar is responsible for keeping the land registers and has all the powers, responsibilities and duties conferred and imposed by law in relation to that.
Events leading to the complaint
- Mr X wanted to buy a commercial shop backing onto a large car park. Mr X used B Company, a local search agency, to make an official local search of the Council for information on the property. Mr X supplied a plan outlining the property for the B Company who then submitted the search.
- The Council emailed B Company advising the plan was incorrect as it did not show the property subject to the search. B Company obtained a correct plan from Mr X and sent an email to the Council saying the correct plan was attached. The Council received the email and carried out the search.
- Mr X bought the property but found there was a planning issue about the use of the property. So, he could not use it as he intended. Mr X found the Council had carried out the search based on the original plan he submitted. Mr X says due to this he did not receive relevant information about the property which would have affected his decision to buy it due to the planning issue.
- B Company complained to the Council about the search response and said they had sent the corrected plan at the Council’s request. So, could not understand why the Council had carried out the search on the incorrect plan. The Council responded it had not received the replacement plan as it was not attached to the email so it carried out the search based on the original plan provided.
- Since buying the property Mr X has submitted a planning application for a change of use to use it as he intended. This is being considered by the Council. Mr X is also involved with some negotiations as there are proposals to develop the car park area behind the property and this also impacts on the property. Mr X says should he gain planning permission then the issues over the purchase of the property fall away.
- The law provides for a person to claim damages resulting from either non-registration of a local land charge, or from a defective official certificate of search from the Chief Land Registrar. It is therefore open to Mr X to claim damages if he believes either of those applies and I consider it is not unreasonable for him to do so. This is because the Chief Land Registrar is better placed to consider issues about the search response.
- Even if the Ombudsman did decide to investigate the issues Mr X has raised about the search and found fault by the Council, it would not be possible to establish now whether Mr X has suffered a significant personal injustice. This is because matters surrounding the property and planning application are not settled. Mr X says should he gain planning permission then any issues he has over the search fall away as he has achieved the outcome he was seeking when buying the property. So, I consider Mr X’s complaints to the Ombudsman are currently premature until the outcome of the planning application is known.
- I am discontinuing my investigation into the complaint. This is because there is another body better placed to consider the complaint. And even if we did investigate it is not possible to establish now whether Mr X has suffered any injustice arising from any fault by the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman