BENEFITS THE INVASIVES CODE CAN BRING TO THE INVASIVE SPECIES INDUSTRY
Alan Thorogood, CEO of STL Group Ltd and a director of the PCCB, discusses the benefits the Invasives Code can bring to the invasive species industry
My advice to the Invasive species industry is to embrace the Invasives Code as something which will help raise awareness of and enhance their businesses. It’s not just a box-ticking exercise.
The Property Codes Compliance Board (PCCB) is an independent compliance body whose work centres on the Search Code, for conveyancing searches, and more recently the Invasives Code. By signing up to the Code, invasive industry remediators will be regulated by an established compliance body whose stakeholders include the lenders, represented by the Council of Mortgage lenders (CML), the Building Society Association (BSA), the Law Society and the Society for Licenced Conveyancers. Most importantly The INNS Code is about consumer protection. Membership of the code means meeting compliance standards, minimum Professional Indemnity Insurance premiums, an agreed complaints procedure and redress via The Property Ombudsman scheme. Membership of the code demonstrates a commitment to industry standards, best practice, and consumer protection.
STL Group Ltd, one of the largest conveyancing search companies in the UK, was a founder member of the Council of Property Search Organisations (COPSO). It was initially set up, in 2003, to try and improve access to Local Authority data, and to lobby lenders and the Law Society to accept our searches. Founding COPSO members included private search companies, environmental search companies and water companies. The industry was much smaller back then, really a cottage industry, and has since grown into the much larger industry it is today, driven by technology, better access to data, legislation and lender requirements.
It was quickly established that in order to be taken seriously, we needed some sort of regulation. Whilst the majority of companies acted with integrity, there were no set standards for search content or production, and inevitably there were companies which cut corners. Fiona Hoyle was the first CEO of COPSO, and with a background at the CML, was instrumental in setting up the Search Code. The PCCB was created as an independent organisation to oversee the Code, with a majority of public interest directors, and it quickly gained traction with lenders who started to mandate the use of Search Code searches. Today, all the major search providers are members of the PCCB, and the vast majority, and all major, lenders mandate regulated searches. The actual incidence of complaints and interventions by the Property Ombudsman is tiny, which is testament to the rigorous entry requirements and ongoing auditing of PCCB members. A local authority, Birmingham City Council, recently become a PCCB member, which would have been unthinkable a few years ago due to the tensions between public and private sector, but this shows the reputation the Search Code has built up over the years.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing though. Accusations of an ‘ivory tower’ mentality by the PCCB were common when it started. Partly, this was just because it was something new and members were not used to outside regulation, but the directors also needed to understand more about the industry itself. The PCCB now has 3 industry directors – Jane Foster and I representing the search industry and Mike Clough of Japanese Knotweed Solutions Ltd representing INNSA the trade body for the invasive species industry. Invasives Code subscribers are coming on board at a good time – the PCCB is a mature organisation which has ironed out its teething problems, and has public interest directors who are well known and well respected in the conveyancing and consumer industries: Kate Davies (Equity Release Council and previously CML), Kate Faulkner (property market commentator and consultant) and Angela Newton (product development consultant and previously Which?).
The PCCB also holds regular conferences and workshops which are a great way to gain experience of shared issues and engage with stakeholders to raise issues of Invasive Species and how to tackle them.
There’s a huge amount of awareness and PR around Invasive Species. Particularly Japanese Knotweed: a question about its existence now forms part of the conveyancing process. Membership of INNSA and the Invasives Code will help draw a distinction between you – with a commitment to professional standards, consumer protection, independently overseen – and those who don’t share this approach.