Complaints about the Government’s record office have more than doubled in the past five years, figures have shown.
More than 4,500 people made a formal complaint about it in 2020, up from 2,150 in 2015, according to data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The most common complaints last year were about the slow progress of applications.
William Marriott of Charles Russell Speechlys, the law firm, said: “The Land Registry has undoubtedly struggled to cope with the pandemic and the move to staff working from home. Applications that would usually take us a few months are now taking up to a year.”
He added that home buyers and sellers were at risk of missing the stamp duty holiday because of hold-ups, which could cause deals to collapse.
Buyers and sellers may need to contact the Land Registry if they require documentation before their deal can go through or if they need to register a lease. “If you are not able to register your new lease, you won’t be considered the legal owner of the property. This can be very risky if any issues emerge with it,” Mr Marriott said.
Jon Pavitt is desperate to sell his late father’s house before March 31, when the stamp duty holiday ends, as he is concerned demand will drop off and prices will fall afterwards. But the sale has been delayed, as the property was never registered so he and his sister are having to construct its legal title through the Land Registry.
“We started the process in August 2018. The delays were already bad but in the past few months it’s been ridiculous because of the stamp duty logjams,” said Mr Pavitt, who is 66 and lives in Cornwall. “Now we’re getting perilously close to the deadline.”
He was originally told by his solicitor that constructing the title should take six months, but he has been given no indication how much longer it will take.
“The buyer has sold their place and is having to pay for temporary accommodation in the meantime. We’re worried they’ll pull out if the delays go on much longer, especially as it’s now unlikely to go through before March 31,” he added.
Since June 2020 Mr Pavitt has also been waiting for the Land Registry to change the ownership of the property he owns with his partner. “It would normally take days, but seven months later and we still don’t know when it’ll go through,” he said.
People who are unhappy with hold-ups at the records office can lodge a complaint. The number of grievances that were upheld has been creeping up, rising from 39pc in 2015 to 46pc in the 11 months up to December 2020, the FOI request showed.
However, Mr Marriott said it was very unlikely that people would be able to appeal or ask for compensation if they missed the stamp duty holiday because of delays at the Land Registry.
It is possible to expedite an application, which means it should go through in less than 10 working days. However you must provide evidence to show why the process should be sped up and requests are not always accepted.
The Registry has had to play catch-up on its online services during coronavirus. “Only recently has it made it possible for us to see how far along an application is online and started accepting scanned signatures rather than in-person ones. These could and should have been in place a number of years ago,” Mr Marriott added.
A spokesman for HM Land Registry said: “Applications which need to be processed in order for sales to go through are either instantaneous or concluded within two to three days.
“Other applications are taking longer, but should not prevent sales or cause problems with the stamp duty deadline.”