Incredibly Difficult Time For Conveyancers

There’s no point trying to sugar-coat the current situation for conveyancing firms.

We all know these are incredibly difficult times and trying to carry out your work, do right by your clients, while at the same time attempting to ensure your firm and employees make it through this period safely and with their jobs intact, is of course a stressful situation to be in.

Clearly, when the COVID-19 situation moved to a different stage, i.e. lockdown, there was always going to be major repercussions for our sector, not least in terms of how to progress cases where there was a legal imperative to do so, and how firms could marry up their duties to their clients and the advice they would provide, with the Government’s own measures on the health and safety of individuals, staying at home, social distancing, and the like.

It was always going to be difficult to provide catch-all guidance which provided answers for every single conveyancing situation, especially when you weigh up what your clients might wish to do, against the wants and needs of others not just within the transaction, but within any chain of transactions.

As we know, in normal times, conveyancing cases can be very different but add in a level of complexity that few of us would have seen during our professional lives, and it is perhaps no wonder that mixed messages were received, conveyancers looked at the situation differently, and thus what might have seemed completely reasonable for one case might not have been perceived that way by others.

It was always going to be a very tricky square to circle, so what we, the CA, and other stakeholders, tried to do was marry up the Government’s guidance with what we believed was achievable within the sector.

The foundation being that everyone concerned had to follow the Government’s measures and in particular that no-one’s health or safety be put at any undue risk when it came to, for example, completing a transaction, perhaps moving individuals into different homes, or indeed, breaching social distancing rules when it came to securing the necessary signed documentation.

I’m glad to say that over a rather busy weekend, the various stakeholders did come together and we were able to produce supplementary Industry Guidance for conveyancers themselves but also further information that could be provided to clients to explain the situation, and why the conveyancer concerned was giving the advice it was.

At the heart of this was the Government’s own guidance that, where possible, transactions should be delayed until after the restrictions on movement have ended. For that, of course, conveyancers would need to produce a variation agreement and get the necessary buy-in and signatures of both the vendor and purchaser.

That seemed to us like a key part of delivering for our members and indeed all conveyancing firms, so alongside our own industry guidance for conveyancers we have produced a Draft Variation Agreement, which coupled with information on financial support for businesses, gives a good starting ‘Coronavirus Toolkit’ which can be downloaded from the CA website’s ‘Featured Downloads’ section.

Of course, the wording is just a starting point; firms will need to look at each case on an individual basis – as they would do anyway – and decide what is the best course of action for their client and whether they are able to proceed. There are not just legal considerations of course but we must think of whether there are removal services available in order to help people to move, or whether we can overcome the other obvious logistical issues plus continuing to maintain adherence with measures as outlined by public health authorities. Overarching though is of course the responsibility which sits with your client, not you the conveyancer, not to cause themselves or others to be in a position of danger of contamination which could put the NHS under further strain and, ultimately, risk lives.

These still remain very challenging times for all conveyancers, but I hope in producing this guidance, we’ve managed to pre-empt some of the many issues that will be raised and provide some wins and solutions that will either allow cases to be delayed or to be progressed in as normal a way as possible. We are continuing to work on the wish list of solutions provided by CA members that will help them navigate through these difficult times and will continue to report on our progress.

It’s our sincere hope that we will get a return to normality sooner rather than later, and while it might seem an obvious point to make, we all have a much better chance of getting to this destination if we can follow the existing rules and guidance. So, stay home, stay safe and support the NHS.

We are wishing everyone in the conveyancing industry the very best of luck through this time and we are here to support you.

Beth Rudolf is Director of Delivery at the Conveyancing Association (CA)

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