This new breed of professional, specialising in all aspects of property and land, came into being in 1985. Licensed conveyancers work under similar professional rules to those laid down by the Law Society and undergo similar training to that of solicitors. .
Andrew Shaw, who practises in Oxford and has been a licensed conveyancer for six years, says: 'The advantage of going to a licensed conveyancer is that we are better qualified, more efficient and faster. You'll never find us out at court, for example.
'We have to give a written quotation before we take on clients, so they know exactly what the charges will be. Generally speaking we are cheaper because we are not subsidising the unprofitable parts of a solicitor's practice, such as legal aid.
'I charge around pounds 199 for a straightforward purchase of a registered freehold property. There would be a pounds 25 surcharge on something which is unregistered or leasehold.'
A solicitor in the same area quoted pounds 290 for a similar transaction.
'Licensed conveyancers don't just do residential conveyancing,' Mr Shaw says. 'My company is retained by two large retailing chains for acquisition and disposal of property. We work for farmers, deal with sporting and fishing rights and all property and land matters. Small businesses can benefit from the lower charges.'
However, Jennifer Israel, a solicitor who is on the Land Law Committee of the Law Society, rejects the notion that licensed conveyancers are cheaper. 'Nowadays solicitors are charging rock-bottom prices. I will give a quotation on the phone to a new client, and, of course, they are entitled to shop around.
'It is important to explain to them whether the senior partner or legal executive will be dealing with the job, as the latter will be cheaper, but will not give the same service as the more experienced partner.'
As a north London solicitor, she would charge pounds 350 to pounds 400 for a straightforward property purchase of a pounds 100,000 house. 'There are solicitors advertising that they will work for pounds 250, but you do not get the same service.
'I am dealing with one at the moment. I wrote to him at the beginning of May for a contract and I am still waiting.
She adds: 'I certainly don't see licensed conveyancers as a threat, as long as they do a good, efficient job. I would say they are more of a stimulus. They compete on an equal footing, with similar qualifications and overheads.'
Eric Dillon, a licensed conveyancer in north London, says he doesn't try to quote lower than a solicitor would. 'I know what my break-even point is and quote accordingly. I know solicitors that charge much less and some that charge more. I would charge around pounds 300 for the purchase of a pounds 100,000 house.
'I have no problem with other solicitors in the area, as long as we both do a good job.'
The Council for Licensed Conveyancers has 787 members, of which only 285 are full members, practising on their own. The other 500 have a limited licence and are employed - by solicitors, building societies or other companies.
Andrew Viner, secretary to the council, says: 'We have nearly doubled since 1989, and we do have 1,700 students at the moment. There are 10 colleges around the country offering courses and I have just approved two more, one in Chester and one in Birmingham.'
The council has a complaints procedure which can result in offending members losing their licences. . As well as a professional indemnity fund and compensation fund, extra insurance provides cover against the compensation fund being used up.
'Because we are a professional body,' says Mr Viner, 'and not a trade union, our interests lie with the consumer. We have taken away a couple of licences recently, which ironically had been taken out by solicitors.'
The Council for Licensed Conveyancers can supply an information pack and a list of members. Its address is 3 Cairngorm House, 203 Marsh Wall, London E14 9YT. Tel: 071-537 2953.
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