Corporate Services Cabinet Member – Minutes – 31 March 2010

373 (103) REVIEW OF THE PERFORMANCE OF THE LOCAL LAND CHARGES SERVICE AND LEGAL SERVICES CHARGING POLICY – The Service Director Legal and Democratic submitted an urgent report seeking to review the performance of the Local Land Charges Service and to amend the charges made by Local Land Charges and Legal Services.

The report set out the Local Land Charge Service’s performance statistics for the year 2009/10. The year’s figures were broadly in line with the previous year’s although both years continued to be well below the levels recorded in the years prior to the downturn in the property market. The number of searches received via the electronic hub had continued to fall with 173 received during the current financial year (up to 28 February 2010) when contrasted with 391 in the last financial year.

Despite the introduction of regulations in 2009 to revise the local land charges charging regime, a series of challenges had been mounted by Search Companies arguing, in essence, that much of the information contained in a search should be provided free under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. Initial rulings of the Information Commissioner had supported this stance and recognised the potentially huge budgetary implications this could have for local authorities, the LGA had instructed a specialist QC to advise on the way forward. The LGA were also in discussions with the Ministry of Justice and it had recently been confirmed that the Ministry of Justice had asked its own lawyers to advise on the issues. Such advice was due to be received by the end of January and as yet no indication had been given as to when it would be received. The LGA continued to press for this.

The report also set out the council’s Legal Services discretionary fees. As part of the work undertaken through the council’s membership of the Unitary Authority Benchmarking Group discretionary fees charged by the Legal Service had been kept under review.

The legal service undertook work for external bodies such as the YHGFL consortium and associated groups for which it charged an hourly rate based on the level of officer undertaking the work. Similarly, the service level agreement governing legal advice to schools was based on an hourly rate as were costs recovered in successful court cases. The respective hourly rates were detailed in the appendix to the report.

Resolved – (a) That the local land charge fee structure as set out in the report be implemented with effect from 1 April 2010 and be kept under review, and (b) that the legal fees be increased, and adopted, as proposed in the report with effect from 1 April 2010.