Solicitors' Negligence during Covid 19

Elle Brooks  04-11-2021

There has been a significant increase in claims against solicitors arising from mistakes made during the Covid-19 pandemic. The largest number of cases have arisen because of mistakes made by solicitors dealing with conveyancing transactions.

The increase is conveyancing negligence cases have largely occurred for two reasons.

Firstly, the Covid-19 pandemic itself has been a challenge for many solicitors’ firms, who have had to adapt to a radically changed working environment. Many firms just didn’t have the technology or systems in place to deal with the remote working requirements necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic and unsurprisingly, mistakes were made as a result.

The second reason was the extraordinary increase in conveyancing work which hit conveyancers hard. The high demand was largely caused by the stamp duty holiday, which gave two artificial deadlines for transactions to be completed, the first being the end of June 2021 where no tax was payable on property purchases with a value of up to £500,000 and the second at the end of September 2021, where no tax was payable on property up to £250,000. Stamp duty rates returned to pre pandemic levels on 1 October 2021. 

Unfortunately for conveyancers, the pressures put on them by the Covid-19 pandemic provides no defence to a claim in professional negligence.

So, what are the main areas of complaint concerning conveyancing solicitors' negligence during the Covid-19 pandemic?

 

Missed Stamp Duty deadlines

Stamp Duty has to be paid to the government within 14 days of the contractual completion date.

The liability for stamp duty after a missed deadline can be very great indeed, but are the solicitors liable for such losses, and how are the losses assessed?

There are cases where the solicitor’s liability will be straight forward. These are the cases where the solicitor’s negligence is the direct cause of missing the deadline. For example, the sellers are ready to complete by the buyer’s solicitors are not because they have failed to carry out an essential part of the conveyancing process, such as requesting funds from lenders or clients in time.

In many cases, the cause is less straightforward. The buyer’s solicitors may have been negligent, but there may be other reasons which could contribute to delay. The buyer may not be able say more than: “my solicitors may have caused the deadline to be missed which may have been avoided had they acted more diligently.” These types of professional negligence cases will often have to be dealt with as a claim for a loss of chance when a solicitor has been negligent, or loss of opportunity basis.  

 

Lack of due diligence

When conveyancing work is dealt with by solicitors under pressure, corners are likely to be cut and essential matters overlooked.

Typical problems arising in this category are:

  • Failing to establish the correct boundaries to a property;
  • Failing to establish that rights of way or easements exist over the land being purchased;
  • Failing to advice on planning issues, both on the property being purchased and neighbouring developments; and
  • Failing to notice that there is no right of way from the property to the highway.

In these types of cases, the measurement of loss (the compensation that can be claimed from the negligent solicitor) is typically based on the difference in value of the property, with and without the defect that is subsequently found to exist. This is known as “diminution of value”.

If your conveyancing solicitor has made a mistake which has caused you financial loss, you may well be able to bring a claim against them for compensation. At Samuels Solicitors, we have decades of experience in bringing professional negligence claims against solicitors. Contact us today to speak to one of our expert solicitors. 
 

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