Property information held by local authorities in England and Wales should be made more readily available to people buying and selling property and their agents, says a new study published yesterday.
Research carried out for the Office of Fair Trade (OFT) finds the price of property searches provided by local authorities varies greatly, with a range of £55 to £269, and it is likely that some consumers are paying too much.
It says local authorities provide property information under a complex framework of legislation and that some local authorities restrict access by property buyers and their agents, including private sector companies, to the property information that they hold.
The OFT has called for local authorities make their property information available to third parties on non-discriminatory terms that do not advantage their own property search activities over competing property search providers. It says this will create greater consumer choice and more effective competition within the market for property information.
In particular, the OFT calls for all local authorities to be required to give access to all the information needed to complete an home information pack before the packs are introduced in 2007, so that competition from the private sector in the compilation of local property searches is not eliminated.
It also says the government should provide clear guidance on how local authorities should set prices for providing property information to consumers and their agents, including private firms, so that competition is not distorted.
And it calls for local authorities and Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to agree a revised best-value performance indicator to ensure local authorities make this information available quickly, and on the same timescale that they apply to themselves. The Welsh Assembly should include a similar measure in the framework for local authorities in Wales, says the OFT.
The study recommends liberalising the electronic provision of property searches compiled by local authorities in England and Wales. At present there is a single electronic source of such searches in England and Wales, called the National Land Information Service (NLIS). Making the NLIS brand and software more freely available, and encouraging local authorities to set up connections with retailers outside NLIS, should allow for greater consumer choice and competition in this innovative part of the market, it adds.
Launching the report, Sir John Vickers, OFT Chairman, says: "Property buyers must have all the relevant information that might affect their choice of property. Developing electronic provision and the introduction of the home information pack mean that there is an ideal opportunity to set the conditions for a dynamic market that serves consumers well in the future."
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