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Office of Fair Trading Market Study on Property Searches

The OFT’s report on the UK property searches market relates to competition in the supply of compiled property information between Local Authorities and Property Search Companies.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) published its report on the property searches market on 21 September 2005.

The OFT had received complaints from Property Search Companies (PSCs) about difficulties in accessing property information from information holders – each of which has a statutory monopoly over the information they hold – and about competition in the market as a whole.

Property searches cover areas such as land ownership, environmental information and planning permission which form an essential part of buying a property.

This information, held by a number of bodies – including local authorities, the Land Registry, the Register of Scotland, the Environment Agency and the Coal Authority – is obtained by conveyancers through three main routes on behalf of property buyers:

  • through a direct application to the information holder
  • through an electronic gateway, which conducts electronic searches of the database of the information holder
  • through a property search company, which coordinates searches to provide an all-in-one package

The OFT report reflected that there is competition in the supply of compiled property information between Local Authorities (LAs) and PSCs. However, it noted that most of the raw data is held by LAs with the result that the market could be subject to distortions.

The main recommendations highlighted the need for changes to the supply, terms, conditions and pricing of property search information available through the LAs.

The Government’s response was published on 23 December 2006:

Government Response to OFT Market study on property searches market

The Department for Communities and Local Government is progressing work in a number of areas including access and pricing of property search information to fulfil the commitments set out in the Government Action Plan in response to the OFT recommendations.