DELAYS which have held up house purchases across the Dorset Council area should improve – according to the authority.

The council has been named as one of the worst performing – not achieving the Government ten working day target for land searches since October 2020.

Current figures average 52 days for most of the county and 25 working days for the east Dorset area.

The delays have led to complaints from would-be purchasers and vendors as well as from local solicitors and estate agents.

Councillors are being told that recruitment to the department has been stepped up and changes to the council’s computerised system is progressing well to bring five previous systems, from the former district and borough councils, into one.

However, a report on progress for converging the systems notes: “Convergence work will follow the final migration, and will start no earlier than January 2022.”

Problems have been made worse by an increase in demand, sparked by the Government’s change in the residential stamp duty threshold from July 2020 at a time when the council team had a high level of vacancies and was also working on converging computer systems.

A report to one of the council’s overview committees next week says: “The service has worked tirelessly to process the increased volume of searches….it has also undertaken several recruitments to employ additional permanent and temporary staff and has been supported by staff made available by other services. Further appointments have been made and staff will be joining the team in September, with the expectation that the larger team will continue to work through the backlog of searches and improve response times. Staff numbers will be monitored and further recruitment will be arranged if required.”

Other changes planned include better methods of contacting the processing team, with a single email, instead of the existing five; although the report warns that much of the contact will rely for some time on queries being re-directed by voicemail messages: “It is likely the team will need to focus their effort on processing searches for some time yet and some arrangements to manage enquiries will need to continue. With the arrival of new staff these arrangements will be reviewed to ensure any automatic responses and correct contact details are clear, consistent, and publicised.”