Whilst pursuing the purchase of their property the Complainant (the Buyer) instructed a search report to be completed by a Search Provider. The report did not find any planning applications within a 750m radius of the property and so the Buyer went ahead with the sale.
When the Buyer moved into the property, they were informed by a neighbour that planning permission had been granted for a chicken farm 250m from the property. If the Buyer had known this, they would not had completed the sale.
When the Buyer complained, the Search Provider stated that, due to the volume of applications being collected on a daily basis, an assumption had to be made that the information returned was accurate. They said that the search report was primarily designed for use by a property professional, who would have been aware of its limitations.
The Search Provider’s report stated that there were no planning applications for large buildings within a 750m radius.. The Search Providers explained that the report was fully automated using data from a third party provider, and that provider had based the location details of the property on grid references. They explained that the applicant had quoted the wrong grid reference and postcode in the planning application for the chicken farm, which placed it about one kilometre from the property, and outside of their maximum search radius, therefore not showing in their search.
Despite the Search Provider’s claim that search searches have their limitations, under paragraph 2 of the Code of Practice Search Providers must act with integrity and carry out a search with due diligence, care and skill. They must locate the most up-to-date and accurate records that are readily available and therefore confirm the information they are sharing is correct. The Ombudsman would have expected the Search Provider to have checked the local Planning Officer’s recommendation that conditional planning consent was granted, and the local Council’s formal planning decision granting consent, since these documents were part of the official record of the application, and were in existence at the time of the search.
The Ombudsman could not determine whether there would be loss in value to the property if the chicken farm is built, it is clear that the lack of due diligence carried out by the Search Provider had a direct impact on the Buyer’s decision to purchase the property. Therefore the complaint was accepted and the maximum award of £5,000 was granted for the avoidable aggravation, distress and inconvenience caused.