Local authority searches

Last updated: April 2024 | 5 min read

Here's everything you need to know about how important local searches are when purchasing a house and what do they entail.

Learn about the duration and cost of local authority searches in 2024, and what measures to take if there are delays. 

The information that local authority searches return usually determines whether the conveyancing process continues to exchange of contracts.

Local authority searches provide important information about potential restrictions, benefits, and conditions regarding the property of which the buyer (and in some cases, the owners) may not be aware.

While mortgage lenders require these searches, even as a cash buyer, you're likely to want to obtain them as they can influence your decision.

The information is often used by buyers as a powerful negotiating tool to get the seller to adjust the sale price for the cost of fixing the issues that come up. At times, poor results can also lead to the buyer pulling out of the deal.

These searches have a validity of six months.

What are local authority searches or property searches?

Local authority searches examine matters pertaining to, amongst others, local land charges, details of planning applications relevant to the property, restrictions on permitted developments, road schemes, and contaminated land.

There are two types: 'official' local authority searches and 'personal' local authority searches.

The official search is carried out by council staff from the Local Land Charges Register.

Your solicitor or licensed conveyancer will usually fill out the relevant forms and send them to the local authority office for you.

You don't have to hire a conveyancer and can do it yourself by filling out the forms and submitting them.

However, we strongly advise that you read our buyer's guide to the conveyancing process and our article on DIY conveyancing before deciding to do it yourself.

Once the search is complete, the information is handed directly to your conveyancer by the local authority office.

What information will you receive after official local authority searches?

Official searches are carried out by the council staff in two parts: an LLC1 and a CON29.

What is LLC1?

Every local authority in England and Wales maintains a Local Land Charges Register pursuant to the Land Charges Act 1925.

The LLC Register has a record of all charges registered against the property within the local borough (which are binding on successive owners). This includes financial charges, planning agreements, enforcement notices, aviation, listed buildings, and light obstruction notices.

Such matters place restrictions on the property that the owner (i.e. you) will be liable for. They can significantly impact the owner financially, as well as how the property can be used and what changes can be made to it.

LLC1 is the Local Land Charges Register search. The results will tell you about any charges or restrictions relating to the land or property, including:

  • whether the property is a listed building

  • whether the property is located in a conservation area

  • whether the property is subject to a tree protection order

  • whether the property requires an improvement or renovation

  • whether the property is located in a smoke control zone

  • whether there are roads and public footpaths

  • the planning agreements and conditional planning permissions surrounding the property

  • the property boundaries

What is CON29?

The second part of the official search is the CON29. The enquiries in a CON29 form were drafted by the Law Society, and many solicitors and licensed conveyancers agree that this form is one of the most comprehensive information documents used during conveyancing, to help you make an informed decision about buying an area of land.

This search will provide information relating to the following:

  • public highways

  • proposal for new roads

  • planning decision or rail schemes

  • outstanding statutory notices

  • breaches of planning or building regulations

  • existence of a compulsory purchase order

What is not covered

Local authority searches do not include several additional reports. You will have to pay extra fees for these, which include:

  • CON29(O) optional form (that deals with applications on roads proposed by private bodies, completion notices, land maintenance notices, environmental notices, and pollution notices)

  • environmental searches (that determine the risk of flooding)

  • water authority searches (that show the public sewers within the boundaries of the property, which can seriously impact development and renovations of the building in the future), and

  • chancel repair reports (to find if the property is liable to church contributions).

However, your conveyancer or mortgage lender will determine the need to conduct additional searches, which often depends on the property's location.

Official local authority search cost and turnaround

Official searches will cost you anywhere between £50 and £250, depending on the Local Authority. If you are required to carry out additional searches as suggested by your conveyancer, those will have an additional cost.

While the government targets returning the forms in a maximum of 10 days, in reality, the timescales vary significantly, from 2 days to 10 weeks. In some cases, they have even taken months. Many local authorities have only a small team working in the Land Charges department.

There is another way of obtaining information that is much quicker and cheaper - the personal local authority search.

How to speed up an official local authority search?

An amazing one-third of property transactions fall through due to delays in the conveyancing process. The key to avoiding delays is acting swiftly and choosing a proactive conveyancer. As soon as your offer has been accepted, instruct your conveyancer to start the searches.

If you are worried that the property transaction may fall through due to a delay in getting the information back from the local authority, you should consider a personal search. However, it is always best to check with your conveyancer and the local authority before deciding which option may be the quickest.

Personal local authority searches (also called regulated searches) are carried out by agencies (often referred to as private search companies) that work independently of the local council.

Personal searches will cover precisely the same risk factors as official searches. The agency will charge you a fee in addition to the cost of the searches. Personal searches will usually be quicker and cheaper.

These private search companies often have specific information accuracy insurance policies and employer error liability. Consequently, many solicitors advise to obtain and recommend personal local authority searches.

Official local authority search cost

Typically, personal search company charges vary from £75 to £120 for a standard search. Alternatively, you might opt for a fixed fee bundle package, encompassing the four primary report criteria (Local Authority, Drainage and Water, Environmental, and Chancel reports), which generally amount to approximately £200 to £260.

Should you choose personal or official searches?

However, some prefer official searches and believe it emphasises comprehensibility, local authority liability, and regulatory Search Code compliance over return speed.

Nevertheless, many industry veterans now agree that the accuracy and standard of personal search reports have risen significantly and that private search companies offer a greater level of control, accountability, and flexibility than official local authority searches.

If you are getting a mortgage, your mortgage lender will determine whether an official search is required, or a personal one will suffice.

You can check the Council of Mortgage Lender's Handbook to see which type of local authority searches each individual mortgage lender accepts.

In any case, you should consult with your conveyancer.

Do you need local authority search indemnity insurance?

If you want to get an official local authority search but are worried that the property purchase may fall through due to delays in getting back the report, you should consider taking out indemnity insurance.

Local authority search indemnity insurance is a policy that secures you in the event that the local council serves you an order causing you to sell the property under the price you paid.

The indemnity policy may set you back a few hundred pounds, but if there are delays, you can proceed with purchasing your desired property in the absence of local authority search results.

However, you will be unaware of the detailed information about the property that could seriously affect your enjoyment of the property. Further, your mortgage lender is likely to require you to seek approval of the policy before you can purchase one.

There may be other risks associated with the property that can easily be resolved by having an indemnity insurance policy in your back pocket. So, it would be wise to read up on which other indemnity insurance you might need.

Different types of searches you may require

Apart from local authority searches, there are other types of searches you may wish to carry out.

HM Land Registry search

HM Land Registry provides the legal evidence of title to the land registered in England and Wales.

The Register contains the Title Plan, which shows, often by red edging, the extent of the property registered under the title number. However, Title Plans do not normally show who owns the boundary features (such as fences and hedges).

The Title Register contains the details relating to the property and each register has three parts:

  • Property register – this is a description of the property and any rights that may benefit the property.

  • Proprietorship register – this shows who owns the property and any restrictions upon their power to deal with the property.

  • Charges register – this contains further information such as mortgages or rights that may adversely affect the property.

Water and drainage search

A water and drainage search is recommended by the Law Society to all buyers. You can choose to get a Regulated Drainage and Water Search from a search provider or a CON29DW, which is done by the local water company.

It is a recommended search as it gives information regarding whether the property is connected to the mains water supply and public drains. In simple words, it tells you how water gets to and from the property.

If the drain runs underneath the property and you plan to make extensions in the future, you will also have to get consent from the water supplier as well as planning permission from the local authority.

If the property is not connected to the mains and public drains, you may have to incur extra costs in maintaining and running the property.

Environmental search

An environmental search covers a host of issues from land contamination, to fracking and flooding. However, environmental searches can vary from one provider to another.

The Law Society recommends that the buyer should at least run a check to find out if the property stands on contaminated land or is near landfills or waste sites.

Mining search

A property near to past or current mining activities may be at risk of being on unstable ground. This is sometimes called subsidence.

A mining search will give information on:

  • mine entries within 20 metres of the property's boundaries

  • gas emissions from coal mines

  • other coal mining hazards reported in the area; and

  • plan for further coal mining in the area

A few last words

Local authority searches provide you with vital information regarding the property, which you may otherwise not be aware.

This information, can inform your house purchase or sale, whether you want to exchange contracts and bind yourself or negotiate a better deal.

You may wish to read further about how long does conveyancing take and what you can do to speed up conveyancing process.

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