Property exchanges were halted last month when IT systems at the Simplify group, which delivers conveyancing services for leading estate agents including Purplebricks, suffered a “security incident”. In the following weeks people who were afraid they would not be able to complete their home purchases took to social media in a bid to get the group – which includes Premier Property Lawyers and My Home Move – to tell them what was going on.
One mother wrote on Twitter: “Please for the love of God pick up the phone. I have young children and need to complete this week and [you are] just ignoring me.”
Conservative MP Bob Blackman, a member of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) committee, said it was likely that “most” property chains have been affected by the difficulties.
He said: “Whilst [Simplify] are working around the clock to restore their systems, we have heard numerous stories of home buyers not being able to complete or exchange. Indeed we have heard several stories of people having to sleep in their cars as they had to leave their old house and had not been able to complete on their new home.
“I would certainly welcome an investigation by [the] committee to investigate how this happened and what steps are been taken to prevent such an incident from happening again. Whilst it remains down to [Simplify] how they handle the situation, I would welcome any efforts to offer some sort of compensation.”
A Simplify spokesman said the IT attack is now the focus of a criminal investigation. He said the group is not aware of “personal data being compromised” and assured clients that “money held by us is safe and secure and is held in an entirely separate system”.
He said: “We had several days at the beginning of the outage with minimal telephone capacity, but we now have hundreds of colleagues making outbound phone calls to clients and this team are calling every client with an update. We regret any uncertainty and disruption that our clients and others may have experienced over the past couple of weeks and now look forward to restoring confidence in our services as we progress their home-moves through to completion.”
Committee member and Conservative MP Brendan Clarke-Smith said he was disappointed by the high number of outstanding transactions and that the regulator had to “step in and suggest providing files to clients in order to change lawyers.”
His committee colleague and fellow Tory MP Matt Vickers said the reported lack of communication with customers was “concerning”.
He said: “It’s important that these companies are open and transparent with their customers, many of whom will be spending their life savings on new properties and expect an acceptable level of service as a result.”
A spokeswoman for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) said: “We expect Simplify Group to take all necessary steps to minimise the impact on customers of this cyber-attack. We are closely monitoring the situation and receiving regular updates from the regulatory body, the Council of Licensed Conveyancers.”