Firstly, I must thank everyone who attended our PSB and All-Member Meetings in Bristol last week, and those who stayed for the (somewhat early) Christmas lunch. From my perspective, it was a great success and the venue I thought suited the CA down to the ground – a bit different from normal.
That was our last formal meeting of 2019 and so we needed to address what our policy priorities might be for 2020 and indeed beyond. I presented a paper on this to the PSB and it seems right and proper to share that with the wider membership, albeit with the somewhat large caveat that we have a General Election in a couple of weeks, and that is likely to change the playing field on which we compete.
For what it’s worth, whichever party (or parties) form the next Government, our sector is likely to be subject to considerable political attention. The ongoing work around improving the home buying and selling process is unlikely to stop – the political interest is unlikely to dissipate as it affects so many citizens as consumers. There is also a certain bureaucratic momentum behind reform which would require a lot to halt, and I cannot see any party actively deciding that the present system can survive without being amended.
In that respect, the CA should be continuing its work to secure a process that works for our member firms and wider stakeholders, particularly consumers. However, we have limited resources to put into policy work and we will prioritise those areas where we have a track record of delivering, and where we can add value to members.
I’ve broken the priorities into four specific areas.
- Leasehold reform: the problems with leasehold are going to be addressed at the political level. The CA should position itself as the source of pragmatic solutions to address the practicalities of reform.
- Rentcharges: this could become a political hot spot if freeholders use the ability to possess or grant a long lease as a means to recoup arrears. We are establishing good relations with the freeholder community and can help this reach a satisfactory conclusion which could involve more transparent fee levels and better standards of service, and a restriction on the use of the more draconian methods of enforcement.
- Home Buying and Selling Group: this has sufficient momentum of its own to continue regardless of the Government. We have a significant role in its affairs, especially through the Conveyancing Task Force (CTF) which we chair until summer 2020; and through our involvement with the working parties on upfront information and reservation agreements.
- Digital Identity: this could be seen as a business enhancement tool not just an issue of public policy but the debate on how to verify identity digitally has now become so widespread and part of wider public debate that we will spend time contributing to its resolution. It also provides a good and developing opportunity to address fraud prevention matters, as well as offering an improvement to the customer experience.
As for the CTF, I hope that we will really get to grips with our detailed agenda in the next twelve months and also communicate with the market about what changes we are working to achieve together.
There are clearly plenty of other areas where we could potentially ‘stray’ into but, given our level of resource, I think it’s important to major on those listed above. As I mentioned at our All-Members Meeting, the longer I work with the CA, the more I can see the significant amount of work it achieves with the resources it has. In other words, we do a lot with not a lot, and that is testament to the work of the Executive but also the support of our member firms.
This, and much more besides – including a real focus on the conveyancing industry post-2025 – will be discussed at our Annual Conference on the 6th February next year. Details of which can be found by visiting: https://www.conveyancingassociation.org.uk/annual-conference/
It will be a real cracker.
I hope you’ll be able to join us there.
Paul Smee is Non-Executive Chair of the Conveyancing Association (CA)