by Mark Johnston
It seems that currently we are facing a situation where banks have decided to have their own panels for conveyancing, through their own specific criteria, to act on both their clients and their behalf. In the old days the situation was clear as the banks were separately represented by their own solicitor.
Therefore these experts feel that what is needed is a level playing field to encourage innovation and competition between large, medium and small law firms which will ultimately benefit the consumer.
The HSBC is one such bank that has been under fire recently for having contracted its conveyancing panel to just 43 law firms and also for charging clients when they use their own solicitors.
There have been numerous allegations from solicitors that transactions involving the HSBC’ s panel have been delayed and the law society has therefore put pressure on them to rectify this.
However the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has declined to investigate the HSBC over the small size of its conveyancing panel saying that the arrangement does not have a ‘significant negative impact on competition’.
Although in light of the law society’s involvement within these allegations, the HSBC has now published their criteria for its conveyancing panel.
Van Der Heijden, head of lending at HSBC said that “those firms interested in joining the panel must meet certain criteria deemed to be advantageous to its mortgage customers”, these include:
– agreeing to fixed fees for customers
– offering a ‘no sale, no fee’ service
– being accredited by the law society CQS
– they must have completed at least 250 residential conveyances, excluding re-mortgages, in the last 2 years
Firms who are able to meet the criteria are invited to apply and will be considered, that is of course if there is a need for them geographically.
It also appears that Nationwide are following hot on the heels of the HSBC in reviewing its panel. The building society cites its reasons for doing so is to ensure its panel is of solicitors is up to date, manageable and active.
Firms that have performed less than 4 transactions for Nationwide in the last year will be suspended, although the nationwide has put in place an appeals process.
Both banks however have received criticism from the law society as they believe that using transaction numbers to decide if a firm should stay on the panel is too ‘rudimentary’. They feel that more would be achieved if the lenders were to collaborate with the society themselves.
Although, all in all it appears that the Nationwide is taking a far more measured approach than the HSBC in re-organising its panel, acting more transparently in doing so and thus conducting itself in a manner which could be considered more fair to its consumers and the conveyancing profession as a whole.
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