Searching investigations-(19.12.04)

The OFT have found another market to investigate - property searches. This is a largely a service that homebuyers purchase through solicitors from local authorities and other agencies as part of buing a house. However, private sector organisations have identified a market for pulling together databases of information that can be provided cheaper than paying for a number of individual searches. The inquiry will determine whether local authorities are abusing a dominant market position by refusing access to private organisations offering competing services.

In theory the pricing for local authority searches should be cost reflective. Such public information under the Freedom of Information Act should be publicly available in any case at cost. Therefore in theory the question of wholesale prices charged to other information providers should be irrelevant in this sort of market. The OFT recognised this as dismissing this part of the original complaint, but is investigating the whole service in any case. Perhaps the OFT, having failed to make progress with Estate Agents and Solicitors, moved on to property searches as an easier way to stand up for householders in what is an expensive business for consumers.