Waverley council’s delays may have cost homebuyers thousands of pounds

By Julie Armstrong   |   Local Democracy Reporter   |
Friday 26th November 2021 1:31 pm
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HOMEBUYERS in Waverley may have missed out on saving thousands of pounds due to council search delays.

Buyers were racing against the clock to complete purchases of their new homes before the stamp duty land tax holiday ended on June 30.

The pressure was on in Waverley between April and June, as the deadline drew nearer and Waverley Borough Council was returning only 15 per cent of land charge search requests on time.

The backlog became so bad that between January and March this year, zero requests were being responded to within the target two weeks and some people were having to wait as long as 10 weeks.

The borough council says it has now cleared the backlog, but this will be little consolation to those who missed out.

A homebuyer in Farnham for example could have saved £12,500 in stamp duty if they managed to complete in time.

The average price paid for a property in the historic market town over the past 12 months, according to Zoopla, is £638,347.

Completing before the end of June would give rise to a £6,917 stamp duty bill, while those who failed to meet it would have had to pay £19,417 during the transition period, and £21,917 following September.

Anyone looking to buy a property asks the local authority to search its local land charges data to flag any issues, such as if it is a listed building or in a conservation area, or subject to any tree preservation orders.

The time taken for local authority searches to be returned can vary hugely. In May it ranged from one week for Ashfield District Council in Nottinghamshire to 36 weeks for Hackney Council, according to research by online mortgage brokers Mojo.

The extent of Waverley Borough Council’s delays emerged in a corporate performance report given to its overview and scrutiny committee yesterday (November 23).

Robin Taylor, the council’s head of policy and governance, said at its worst this year people waited 50 working days to get a response – five times the council’s target.

He said turnaround times were back on target by the end of September.

Councillor Joan Heagin (LD, Godalming Holloway) said: “I would like to record continuing concern on the land charges.

“When you say you’re up-to-date does that really mean that all of this thousand backlog is clear?”

Mr Taylor replied: “In quarters one and two we were having to do two things: we were trying to deal with requests as they came in and we were also trying to tackle the backlog.

“The backlog is now tackled and so we are back down to dealing with the requests as they come through.

“I absolutely note the concerns. I’d like it to be better, Waverley previously has significantly overachieved.”

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