This dispute concerned a drainage and water search report prepared by a search provider for a buyer that the seller claimed had caused the sale to be aborted.
The Seller raised concerns directly to TPO after the potential buyer suddenly and unexpectedly pulled out of their purchase following the receipt of their searches. Subsequently the Seller asked their solicitor to obtain new searches in order to understand what the issues were. When the Seller received the searches, they realised that the search provider had recorded that the public foul sewer ran under the property rather than along the road beside it, where it was actually located.
The Seller also raised concerns surrounding the communication from the search provider as he experienced difficulty contacting them, taking him four days to get hold of the correct department. Once the complaint had been registered with the search provider their technical investigation team carried out investigation into the matter. These investigations concluded that the position of the sewer pipe had been incorrectly mapped when records were transferred from the local authority following the privatisation of the water industry in 1989. Upon identifying this issue, the technical information team amended their records to correctly show the position of the sewer pipe. The search provider then responded to the Seller’s complaint and issued a revised search report to the buyers search agent on the same day.
The Seller remained dissatisfied with the search providers response and escalated their complaint to TPO. In response, the search provider advised that they had responded quickly and had taken prompt action to amend the search and had provided compensation to the Seller in respect of the cost of his own searches.
The adjudicator considered the issues against the requirements of the Drainage, Water and Sewerage Network’s (DWSN) Code of practice. Here, the DWSN code of practice explained that members:
- shall carry out the delivery of the search with integrity and due care and skill;
- will deliver the search to the agreed standards and in the best interests of the customer and associated parties;
- will ensure the format and content of the search are consistent with the advice and guidance of DWSN and take the appropriate measures to ensure that the quality of the data contained within is both accurate and correct; and
- will adhere to and remain compliant with all relevant UK legislation, industry standards, guidance and best practice.
The adjudicator noted that the search provider was a trading style of the water service provider and, as such, was in effect examining their own records and were not reliant on information provided by a third party.
Upon examination of the local authority records, it was clear that an error had occurred when the data was transferred from the local authority in 1989 as these records correctly identified the position of the sewer pipe. Furthermore, as the property in question was over 300 years old, it pre-dated the installation of the sewer pipe and therefore could not have been located above it.
Regarding the communication from the search provider, the adjudicator considered that the responses were prompt but could have provided a better explanation for how the situation occurred. The adjudicator also noted that the search provider provided the seller with the wrong map when they had asked for a copy of the original local authority plan, which would have exacerbated his dissatisfaction.
The adjudicator considered that the search provider could not reasonably have known that the position of the sewer map had been incorrectly mapped at the point the search was carried out. However, the adjudicator partially supported this complaint to the extent that the search providers communication and complaint handling performance could have been better and awarded compensation of £150 for the avoidable aggravation, distress and inconvenience caused. The adjudicator did not make an award of compensation for any financial losses linked to the sale of the property not going ahead.