Today’s Conveyancer speaks to Mark Jarvis at Severn Trent Retail and Utility Services

Mark Jarvis is the General Manager for Severn Trent Retail and Utility Services.

Amongst his responsibilities is the delivery of their water and drainage searches (CON29DW) to conveyancers and he is well known and respected throughout the industry.  We have been lucky enough to interview him and learn more about what goes on within Severn Trent.

Service Improvement as a result of HIPS.
Mark reminded us that over recent years technology around the water and drainage search process has delivered significant improvements and competition across the industry.  In particular online ordering, credit accounts and wide use of the internet has meant that ordering CON29DW searches is now really just a click of a button.
It wasn’t that long ago when conveyancers had to draw cheques, colour in plans and type forms before regularly waiting weeks for the data that they needed.
Severn Trent is very proud to be one of the quickest in the delivery of water searches with almost 98% of all searches processed and sent within one working day.  Overall the industry still operates at 95% within 5 working days which is a significant improvement on the service offered 10 years ago.
If only all providers of information to conveyancers (including those on the other side of transactions) operated these sorts of delivery times then maybe the moving process would be less painful for professionals and consumers.
Mark identified that the catalyst which drove Severn Trent to deliver these service standards was the spectre of HIPs, and the potential damage that could be caused to the Severn Trent brand in the event that a Midlands based consumer was unable to put their property on the market due to a late water and drainage search.   This triggered investment and a management review that lead to today’s standards.
Mark also pointed out that real time searches were a possibility in the future but every water and drainage report issued by Severn Trent is quality assured by being signed off by a technician prior to delivery.  This sign off process, together with the system checks and balances should give conveyancers additional reassurance of the accuracy of the data.
Mark was also keen to explain that conveyancers should see Severn Trent as more than just a data provider; Severn Trent wants to have a dialogue and aid the conveyancing process and welcomes conveyancers ‘ questions.
Consumer Protection.
We were interested in asking Mark what happened when things went wrong.  Mark explained that
“The team work very hard to minimise errors — every technician has undergone competency assessments and there is a programme of quality management and refresher training. There is also a sophisticated set of rules based on industry experience that are designed to act as a safety net.”
“However, Severn Trent has over 50,000 kilometres of underground assets and a small percentage of the records relating to where these are is occasionally found to be wrong.”
“We make a service guarantee to a customer that if the search is wrong — either through incorrect data or through the way we process the data then we will work to put the customer in the equivalent position. In the past this has involved moving sewers or water mains or making new connections to services”
Mark gave an example
“Sometimes our records are not accurate because of the actions of customers, and this might seem odd, but there are home owners who are paying for services which they don’t receive.
I’ll give you an example — a pub/restaurant on the banks of the River Trent had had a significant refurbishment carried out which meant that the kitchens were built into the basement. Unfortunately this meant that the original connection to the public sewer was broken and due to the new levels would have required the installation of a new pumping station at considerable expense. The nearby River Trent was clearly a cheaper option and the whole drainage from the property was diverted into an underwater discharge in the river. They continued to pay sewerage charges to Severn Trent, and so we were none the wiser.  However, the property changed hands some years after and the new owner was served notice by the Environment Agency to rectify the position. Not unreasonably he approached us and complained that we had not told about the situation. As a result we made the necessary installation to connect the foul drainage to the public sewer.”
We suspect that some conveyancers may not be aware of the extent to which a water company would go in this (rare) type of circumstance.
Personal Water and Drainage Searches
When asked about the quality of personal water and drainage search Mark was keen to stress that Severn Trent operated in a competitive market and that there was room for many different models. The fact that personal drainage reports have a market drives Severn Trent to continually improve what it does and how its products are delivered to customers.
The data held by water companies is to run a utility not for the purpose of conveyancing.  Therefore any provider of information to assist people in their due diligence on house buying was welcome in what is a large market.
CON29DW searches answer a very specific set of questions which have been requested by the conveyancing profession and consumer bodies concerned with the protection of water company customers. It is these people who have decided what should be of interest to a potential homebuyer.   It may not always be clear to a purchaser of a personal search what is answered and what is insured.
He said that conveyancers are professional people and should base their purchasing decision on the needs of their clients.  He estimated that over 95% of the market used official rather than personal water and drainage searches.  Today’s Conveyancer believes that it is clear that the personal searchers needed to go further to demonstrate that their products are what conveyancers and home movers wanted.
The Future
Mark welcomed the various initiatives in the market to improve quality standards and felt that Severn Trent and potentially other water companies would welcome these and embrace innovation to deliver them.
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