Anybody who has ever bought a property will know that property searches must be conducted as part of the process. Originally, it was the buyer who had to conducted the searches. However, following the introduction of the HIPs regime in 2007, it is now the seller’s responsibility. In tandem with the introduction of the HIPs regime, the Government introduced the Local Authorities (England) (Charges for Property Searches) Regulations 2008, which empower local authorities to charge for making property search information available to members of the public. However, importantly, those Regulations have to be applied in a way which does not, in effect, cut across the access regime afforded under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR). This means that, in practice, it will often be the EIR which governs whether and to what extent local authorities can charge for making property search information available
In the recent case of East Riding of Yorkshire v IC & York Place, the Tribunal was called upon to determine the question of whether, on an application of the EIR, particular property search information should have been made available to a property search company free of charge. More particularly, the Tribunal had to determine whether the local authority: (a) was required to allow the company to inspect the information free of charge at the local authorities premises; or (b) was entitled to refuse inspection and make the information available by way of hard copy documents, for which a charge could be levied under r. 8 EIR. After having made a number of findings as to the weakness of certain aspects of the council’s evidence, the Tribunal went on to hold that the council ought in fact to have permitted the company to inspect the relevant records free of charge. This judgment is important both because of its careful examination of the principles relating to charging under the EIR and because of its implications for local authority charging regimes in respect of property search information. 11KBW’s Jane Oldham appeared on behalf of the council and Anya Proops appeared on behalf of the Information Commissioner.