Conveyancers call for improved CQS policing and staff training as enquiries soar

The vast majority of conveyancers have seen an increase in the number of enquiries in transactions of late, a new survey has found, with lack of CQS enforcement, poorly trained staff, and overly automated processes to blame.

Of 130 conveyancers surveyed by Today’s Conveyancer, 108 (83%) reported an increase in the number of enquiries being raised as of late, with 78 of these respondents noting a “big” increase. Just two respondents (1.5%) reported a fall in the number of enquiries being raised.

The same survey was conducted in 2022 and found 76% had seen an increase in enquiries during transactions, suggesting the problem has become worse within the last year.

Why is the number of enquiries being raised increasing?

Source: Today’s Conveyancer

Lack of training and experience, and a “general nervousness”

112 of the 130 survey respondents (86%) also cited lack of staff expertise and training as a cause for increasing numbers of enquiries.

“It does seem a lack of knowledge of the protocol and perhaps a lack of experience and education within the profession generally has led to an increase in the volume of ‘unnecessary’ enquiries being raised,” said Lorna Thomson, Head of Residential Conveyancing and Partner and Clifton Ingram Solicitors, continuing:

“Some firms are straying beyond purely legal points and engaging in matters which are evident on inspection or better addressed by other professionals.

Others, rather than guiding their clients on what is appropriate to be asked, simply pass on every query – whether legal or not.”

This was echoed by Charlie Davidson, Senior Associate, Property, Bishop & Sewell, who urged firms to stick to avoid the “kitchen-sink” approach. He also said a fear of being found negligent is behind the volume of enquiries:

“While a belt and braces approach can be admired, it has been taken to the extreme and is causing a slowdown.”

In a similar vein, Peter Ambrose, Managing Director of The Partnership, cited a “general nervousness” from firms as well as a lack of experience as causes for the increasing number of enquiries – something that “isn’t going away”. Indeed, his firm has tracked the number of enquiries per case over the last seven years and found they have increased from an average of 29 in 2017 to 37 in 2023 – a 28% increase.

Another suggestion was put forward by Mark Tosetti, Group Partnerships Director at ONP, outsourced title checking to third parties in the UK or overseas who cannot have a comprehensive view of a file could be a factor.

CQS enforcement

Half of the survey respondents said a lack of Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) enforcement was behind the trend of increasing enquiries. Clifton Ingram’s Lorna Thomson said:

“We are seeing increasing numbers of standard enquiries sent without reference to matters already dealt with by searches or the property information forms in direct breach of CQS protocol.

It is often easier to answer rather than delay arguing back and forth as to what is or is not a CQS compliant enquiry, but that misses the point.”

Indeed, amongst written respondents to the survey, there was a general feeling that the CQS protocol needs stricter enforcement as it is “seldom adopted”.

Today’s Conveyancer put this to the Law Society. A spokesperson said:

“There is a module on additional enquiries that forms part of the current CQS mandatory training that launched in December 2022.

We have also included a specific question in the updated CQS application form where firms are required to indicate whether they have raised any standard additional enquiries. The answers to this question are reviewed as part of the annual reaccreditation process.

The senior responsible officer (SRO) provides a declaration that the information provided to CQS is correct. Should it be found that the information on the application form is not correct, the CQS office will take action against both the firm and the SRO.

Firms found not to be complaint with any part of the CQS standard will be provided with an opportunity to take the necessary corrective action. Should they fail to complete such corrective action or fail to complete it in the relevant timeframe, they may lose their CQS accreditation.”

On another note, one respondent suggested it’d be a “big help” if the CQS and CLC could agree a protocol:

“Many big firms are non-CQS because they are CLC regulated. We always get silly things in their contracts and enquiries and their response is ‘we don’t comply with the protocol’… Yes, but we do, so we still need you to answer the question. Guidance from the CLC that says they should assist and comply with the protocol as far as possible would be useful.”

Upfront information

Notably, just 25 respondents (19%) said a lack of upfront information was the cause. There is, however, significant support for initiatives such as the BASPI, which Lorna Thomson said “must be applauded”, adding: “The more information provided at the outset, the better.”

Chloe Smart, Licensed Conveyancer and Director at Landsmiths Solicitors added that upfront information is “essential” in cutting enquiries, but added two caveats. First, it must be reviewed before being shared. Second, it needs to be adopted by all or become compulsory, she said, adding:

“This needs to be commonly used throughout chains and all conveyancers must be familiar with the process for a real impact to the industry to be made.”

Beth Rudolf, Director of Delivery at the Conveyancing Association, commented:

“It is clear from research that additional enquiries arise due to conflicting or missing information in the TA6, Title, and searches.

The Home Buying & Selling Group have identified the solutions to this through the digitisation of property data via the BASPI and the delivery of Upfront Information so conveyancers have everything in one go to remove the enquiries for conflicting or missing information. As this is also available to valuers, it removes enquiries relating to post-mortgage instruction queries too.”

Rudolf explained that pilots have found a “massive reduction” in transaction timescales, adding:

“It does not take a huge leap of imagination to imagine the positives that might be delivered for crucial areas such as cash flow, reduction in man-hours, and improvement in customer satisfaction if there was greater take-up right across the board.”

The complexity of conveyancing

There is also little doubt that the increasing complexity of transactions is leading to greater uncertainty and higher volumes of enquiries. Indeed, research undertaken earlier this year by Today’s Conveyancer found 81% of conveyancers are actively concerned about the increasingly complex nature of conveyancing. This is a view shared by the Society of Licensed Conveyancers (SLC), whose Chairperson Simon Law said:

“The SLC is not surprised that the results have shown that conveyancers are noticing an increase in the number of enquiries. The introduction of the Building Safety Act 2022 and constant changes to the UK Finance Handbook will no doubt have been a contributing factor.”

The role of technology

Automation was cited by over half of respondents as a cause of a rise in the number of enquiries being raised.

However, when it comes to responding to those enquiries, it is clear from the written responses to the survey that – implemented correctly and overseen by skilled conveyancers – technology may have a part to play in addressing the volume of enquiries faced by those at the coalface.

“[The survey results are] no surprise to us,” said Collaborative Conveyancing, a start-up enquiries business launched by Chris Harris and Karen Babington.

The company recently secured “substantial backing” from investors and government to help fund the development of their solution to the enquiries headache for conveyancers. Through the use of artificial intelligence (AI), they aim to reduce the “boring and manual” administrative work for selling conveyancers:

“One example is that by using technology we can remove the need for conveyancers to sift through hundreds of emails to find out which ones contain enquiries.

Instead, imagine a world where enquiries can be automatically identified on receipt, tracked, and assigned to a case [where] recommendations and solutions can be offered to you including what answers would be appropriate and what actions are needed to move the case forward.

We are not doing this alone and appeal to assistance from conveyancers by joining our Research Community.”

“Enquiries will always be a necessity within conveyancing, but the industry should look to technology to improve the two main issues with enquiries; raising those of quality and relevance, and ensuring responses are sent as quickly and accurately as possible,” said Louise Edwardes, Head of Product at InfoTrack, another provider of conveyancing technology. She continued:

“Solicitors are left frustrated and at the mercy of other parties in the chain who do not adopt technology to improve processes. Without the market as a whole, not just solicitors, adopting ways to digitally identify issues to flag with the seller, the likelihood of items being missed, or irrelevant items being raised, there remains a great risk to the conveyancing industry.

Relying on emails and word documents to template, identify, respond, and manage enquiries is too manual a process to support firms’ growth objectives.

InfoTrack currently uses digital data to suggest relevant enquiries specific to a transaction and connects law firms on both sides via a portal to ensure enquiries are sent securely and quickly.”

5 Responses

  1. Tech isn’t the answer nor AI.
    The answer is:
    1 all consumer facing professionals should be qualified and CQS compliant; and
    2 upfront information and as much legal work as possible completed before the property is marketed.

  2. Completely agree with this. Too many firms do not understand the protocol and frankly need reporting. Perhaps then they would sit up and pay attention.

  3. The problem with CQS was that it concentrated on compliance and not with practice and procedure of a property deal. (I write in the past tense as it’s about 8 years since I dealt with resi. private practice work). As CQS was a mark your own homework thing it was too easy to upgrade a mark. I have worked in several firms which ‘complied’ with CQS (and in one case Lexcel) which should never had accreditation. I now don’t work in a resi. environment though when I do come across it, the standard of work is generally not great.

  4. Tech and AI seems to be an ongoing distraction for those whose agenda is to condone the ongoing use of shoddy humans employed as part of the conveyancing process. Throw tech and AI at those people…..only to find that we then have fancy tech and AI still used by the same shooddy conveyancers [slow emoji headshake]

  5. I was interested to note today one of the usual talking heads commenting that he was involved in the launch of a system that would mean enquiries would be dealt with in the right way.
    Now to read that people outside the profession would get entirely the wrong impression. Yet it is websites like this and others who give people a platform who are responsible for misleading the public. As the comment above suggests fancy tech and AI does not a good conveyancing firm make when you do not invest in that most valuable resource – professionalism, competence and experience within your staff.
    The lack of those attributes can stem from what the leadership of a firm eschews, social media does not help either nor do frivolous surveys. There is NO substitute for a real person with ability dealing with a conveyancing transaction.

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