Conveyancing firm blames recent cyber breach for months of poor service

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A conveyancing firm with the ambition to ‘simplify moving’ has left property purchasers uninformed or abandoned. A cyber security incident has been blamed for property deals breaking down, leaving some of the company’s customers homeless, but its customers say the problems began long before any security breach.

The Simplify Group prides itself on ‘powerful technology’ and ‘outstanding customer care’. The company is one of the largest in the UK, and includes six of the largest conveyancing firms and two leading independent property service businesses, as well as its direct online customers.

Simplify also acts on behalf of customers of its 1,500 ‘introducing partners’, including Purplebricks. Purplebricks offers a ‘pay later with conveyancing’ service, which allows conveyancing fees to be deferred. To defer fees, the customer must use Simplify’s property conveyancing service, for which Purplebricks receives a commission, but Purplebricks has been accused of refusing permission to change conveyancer, or attempting to charge a fee £300 to do so.

The cyber security breach did lead to hold ups, but there were historical complaints from some of Simplify’s customers, who had previously complained of important documents being lost or being asked again for documents that had already been provided.

The delays have caused property chains to collapse and customers have complained of being ignored or given false information, leading to wasted months pursuing their conveyancer for information on progress.

The problems have been attributed in part to the sheer volume of transactions to which the company has committed its resources.

One 73 year old woman who wanted to move from Shropshire to Cambridgeshire, said she had been ignored for seven months and eventually left homeless, due to a subsidiary of Simplify, Premier Property Lawyers (PPL). Jenny Hubbard succumbed to pressure from her buyers to complete before their mortgage offer expired and completed on the sale of her property but PPL’s inaction caused her property purchase to fail to take place. She was left with no option but to put her belongings into storage and share a bedroom with her granddaughter. Promised return calls from PPL didn’t materialise.

She said: “The move was to be closer to my family and should have been a joyful occasion. Instead, in the final chapter of my life, I have been left homeless and in ill health from the stress. In the entire seven months, the conveyancer has not once contacted or returned the calls of the estate agent I am buying through. They are just hiding under their desks and I have been ignored from day one.”

Simplify said the problems with its systems were largely rectified and that the company ‘regretted’ any uncertainty and disruption to its clients over the two week period. It said it had reported itself to the Information Commissioner’s Office, the data watchdog which regulates potential breaches of personal details.

Purplebricks said: “Our model has always been that customers pay an upfront fee for our service, or they have the option of deferring it if they use our conveyancing service. We’re very clear on this with customers, from valuations onwards.”