Why you must check your conveyancing solicitor's lender panel membership

Before instructing a conveyancing solicitor for a property purchase, you absolutely must check that they can act for your mortgage lender.   If your solicitor cannot also act for your lender it could seriously delay your move.

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Why does a lender need to instruct a solicitor on my home purchase?

When you buy a property with a mortgage, your lender will need to ensure that the money they are lending is "safe".

When you take out a mortgage, the loan is 'secured' on the property being purchased.

If you do not keep up the mortgage payments, the lender will repossess the property and sell it to recover the outstanding amount of the loan

A mortgage lender must therefore be satisfied that the property has a ‘good and marketable title’ if they do ultimately need to sell it.

A ‘good and marketable title’ will ensure that the property can be sold without legal issue.  The solicitor must also register the mortgage as a legal ‘charge’ against the owner's title. This charge is registered at HM Land Registry.

The lender will need to confirm that the value of the property if sold will be cover the mortgage plus the lender’s costs and interest.

Most solicitors aren't on all lender panels

There are around 100 mortgage lenders on the UK.

Each lender has a set of specific requirements that a solicitor must fulfil in order to be able to represent the lender.

Whether a solicitor's firm is or is not on the panel of a particular lender is not usually a reflection of the competence of the firm.

Some lenders will only appoint firms with three or more partners. Some lenders will only work with firms that regularly handle a certain volume of residential conveyancing.

Other lenders require panel firms to be accredited by the Law Society's Quality Conveyancing Scheme.

There are a few ‘niche’ lenders which only have a very restricted panel, or may even only employ one firm to complete their mortgages.

If you do want to get a mortgage from one of these niche lenders then you will probably need to instruct your own solicitor as well (and expect to pay two sets of costs) since these lenders' solicitors often do not act for individual buyers as well as the lender.

What if my broker recommends a solicitor?

Buyers who use a broker to obtain a mortgage (whether via the seller's estate agents or an independent firm) may find that the broker recommends a solicitor.

This will not necessarily be because the firm is any better or cheaper than another solicitor you want to use, but because the broker or agents are getting a commission from the solicitor. The broker should inform you if this is the case.

Read more:

Should I use the estate agent's recommended solicitor?

Most solicitors won’t tell you until it’s too late

Don't assume that a solicitor will check they can act for your lender before taking you on as a client. It is very rare for a solicitor to even ask who your lender is until the conveyancing process is semi-progressed.

Most solicitors firms don’t even maintain a central lender panel membership list. As a result the potential inability for a solicitor to represent a buyer’s lender often only becomes apparent when the lender makes a formal mortgage offer - possibly weeks into the process. 

If the solicitor then discovers they are not on the panel, there is  last-minute panic to find another solicitor to handle the legal work for the lender.

This can lead to serious delays.

See also:

How long does the conveyancing process take?

Speed up the conveyancing process - how to take control

How can I avoid falling into this trap?

When you plan to buy a home, it is a good idea to think about your choice of solicitor at the earliest stage. This will give you time to compare quotes and make enquiries.

Most firms work on a "no sale, no fee" basis, so you can even instruct a solicitor before you find a property if you wish.

If you know who your lender is at the point of choosing a solicitor you should categorically ask the solicitor if they are on that lenders panel. If you are still deciding between two or three lenders you should confirm that the solicitor is on all prospective lenders panels.

Read more:

When is the best time to instruct a conveyancing solicitor?

How can you check your prospective solicitor’s panel membership?

You need to ask the solicitor about panel membership before you instruct them.

With Quittance you can confirm this online.

What if my preferred solicitor is not on my lender’s panel?

If it is discovered that your solicitor is not on your lender’s panel, the lender will insist on using a different solicitor to conduct the legal work.

The solicitor will then have to arrange for another law firm to carry out legal enquiries on behalf of the lender. This literally means creating a separate file on your behalf which can then be forwarded to the second solicitor.

Alternatively, you could opt to go with a solicitor recommended by the lender themselves.

Either way, this process will waste valuable time. A long delay could cause serious delays or scupper your purchase entirely.

You could be expected to pay the legal costs of the firm the lender uses.

What if my conveyancing is already underway?

If you are in the early stages of the conveyancing process, you should contact your solicitor and make sure that they know which lender you are using. You should ask the solicitor to confirm that they can act for your lender.

Unless you have only just instructed a solicitor, it will probably not be worth trying to move the the conveyancing over to another firm.

You should therefore ask the solicitor to confirm what their process will be.

The solicitor should be ready to send the necessary information over to an alternative firm as soon as the mortgage offer is received. The solicitor should also give you their undertaking that there will be no delays as a consequence of using a second firm

Whether you go with the lender’s solicitors, or one recommended by the solicitor, the second solicitor won't, by default, feel any pressure to work quickly.

You should therefore be prepared to chase regularly to ensure that your file as prioritised by the second solicitor.

Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher

About the author

Gaynor Haliday is an experienced legal researcher and published author. She has had numerous articles published in the press and is a legal industry commentator.

Read more about this Quittance Legal Expert

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Questions: 2

Hello, I'm in the process of purchasing a flat. We have appointed solicitors recommended by the developer. 3 weeks in - we have been informed by our lender that the lawyers we are using are not on their panel and we will have to change it. Our existing lawyers would have done circa 60% of work and they want to charge us for it if we change the firm. My question is - was there no obligation from the developer, the lawyers, or the broker to make us aware of the fact that we should have checked that before appointing the law firm to avoid unnecessary cost? At no point in the last month has anyone mentioned it to us. Please advice Thank you Marzena

Marzena 11/09/18

Hi Marzena

Very few solicitors are on all the hundred or so lenders' panels. As such, a solicitor should have a contingency relationship with another firm for situations like this. Your solicitor should be able to outsource the lender part of the conveyancing to another firm. This should happen seamlessly and without delay or cost to you.

Best practice would have been for your solicitor to ask you up front who your lender, is and advise and/or make provisions accordingly.

I would contact your solicitor and ask them:

Why they did not clarify your lender and their panel status at then outset?

What their contingency is as far as out-sourcing the 'acting for lender' work?

Whether there will be any delay and additional cost?

If there is an additional cost, check the terms and conditions you signed with the solicitor. If this cost was explicitly set out in the terms, to avoid delays, you are probably best off staying with the solicitor and paying the additional fee.

You could ask for any additional fee fee to be waived on the basis that they should have asked you up front who your lender is. You would then have been able to make a more informed decision about which solicitor to choose.

Hope that helps.

The Quittance Team, 12/09/18

Hi, we were due to complete the sale of our property only to find out that our buyers buyer solicitors are not on their lenders panel.. from your experience how long does it take to get on a lenders panel?

Ciaran Collins 27/09/18

Hi Ciaran,

The buyer's solicitor should have a contingency plan in place for situations like this. If the buyer's conveyancing solicitor cannot act for the lender, they should be able to outsource the 'acting for lender' part of the conveyancing work to another solicitor who is on the lender's panel. This outsourcing can still lead to delays, however, as the other solicitor will not be particularly motivated to act quickly.

In answer to you question about how long it takes for a solicitor to join a lender panel, this varies from lender to lender. For some lenders, joining their panel is a formality that can be completed immediately. Others can take weeks or even months. Some smaller specialist lenders may even run a closed panel (meaning no new solicitors can join, ever).

The best thing to do is put pressure on your buyer and their solicitor to resolve the issue as quickly as possible - one way or another.

Hope this helps

The Quittance Team, 09/10/18