Hackney cyber attack puts property market ‘on pause’
PUBLISHED: 11:14 12 November 2020 | UPDATED: 11:18 12 November 2020
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Hackney’s property market has been frozen as a result of the serious cyber attack on the Town Hall’s systems.
One of the hundreds of different functions carried out by the council is the processing of land searches, whereby anybody buying or selling property in the borough should be able to receive legal information from the local authority within eight to 10 days.
This includes the council’s land charges processing system, which establishes whether the land has any restrictions which can be passed on to successive owners, including planning or enforcement notices, tree preservation orders or dangerous structure notices.
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However, following the cyber attack in October, Hackney Council is unable to process these searches or confirm when the service will return as the end of the government’s holiday on stamp duty approaches.
Hackney resident Jessica Tye said: “I suspect many others don’t yet realise that this is impacting them. My understanding is that many lenders won’t accept indemnity policies on purchases (rather than remortgages) and buyers will understandably want to see the information that searches provide.
Jessica is currently in the process of selling a one-bed flat and buying outside London: “If my purchase falls through as a result of the delay then we stand to lose hundreds, although that’s secondary to how upsetting it would be to not be able to move after so many months of trying to make it happen.
“I’ve written to my local councillors and had a sympathetic response, but the fact that over three weeks on from the attack no back-up plan is yet in place doesn’t bode well.
“I hope it goes without saying but I’m hugely sympathetic to the council workers having to deal with managing this on top of the additional work and disruption caused by Covid, but in terms of personal impact, this is potentially huge.”
The National Cyber Security Centre, National Crime Agency and police are investigating the attack.
The Town Hall has said it hopes to restore a partial service “in the coming weeks”, but is not expecting a full recovery “for some time”.
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It has asked house buyers and sellers to talk to lenders or mortgage brokers about indemnity insurance.
According to Peter May, sales director at Hackney estate agents Location Location, options do exist, through search indemnity or conditional property exchange, though he warned they could facilitate risk in the exchange.
Peter said: “The council are not prepared to give a date as to when they will resume returning searches, so at the moment numerous sales, probably in the hundreds, are on pause.
“There are a couple of options that we can look at, but both are subject to consent by the buyer, the solicitor and the lender.
“Solicitors and lenders are typically cautious, so it is very, very difficult at the moment to give people insight as to when they might be able to move. It is stressing a lot of sales at the moment.
“Frustratingly, the demand is there. Buyers of course want to buy within the Hackney borough, so the volume of sales that we are agreeing has not changed.
“The frustration is we are unable to give any kind of insight on timeframes.”
He does not think there will be an ultimate impact on prices and sales would not collapse, but characterised the market as “generally speaking on pause”.
Hackney’s planning chief Cllr Guy Nicholson said: “This criminal cyberattack on our community continues to have a serious impact on the lives of residents. It has affected services that residents rely on, and this includes disrupting the ability of the council to process land searches.
“The council is working hard to repair its systems and is working closely with the government, the National Cyber Security Centre and the National Crime Agency to recover council services but at this stage, it is not possible to say when this will be.
“On behalf of the council, I can only offer our sincere apologies for the delay that is being caused to individuals and their property purchases and the worry that such a delay brings.
“We are hoping to offer a partial land search service and some possible alternative options in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please be reassured that every effort is being deployed to recover the council’s systems.”
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