Why party wall ambulance chasing is a piss poor thing to do…
What they do
There are surveyors who look for recently submitted planning applications. They will then write to your neighbours informing them of their right to appoint a surveyor under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, in the hope that the neighbour will appoint them and they can make some money.
Who they are
Kennedy & Skidmore Ltd
Pearce & Pearce Surveyors Ltd
Maurice & Associates
Peter Barry Surveyors
PSG Surveys Ltd
Barker & Associates Party Wall Surveyors (not to be confused with Barker Associates who are a different company and do not ambulance chase).
Why it is a problem
Firstly, instead of hearing from me, why don’t I hand it over to the public who have this to say about ambulance chasing:
Avoid at all costs - Ambulance chasers!! Anyone who writes to you using language like; "paid by your neighbour" & If your neighbour has sent a party wall notice do not sign the notice but send it to us. Are not to be trusted!
Ambulance chasers- sent letters to our neighbours, then charge exorbitant, non-competitive fees for surveyor work as we have no say on the matter.
Sending incorrect information and stating neighbours will pick up the bill is unprofessional and morally wrong.
Kennedy and Skidmore sent us a letter claiming to be a Surveyor, saying he would represent us for free but wanted to charge our neighbour the best part of £2000.00. Our neighbour is our friend… and the content of his letter was very threatening indeed.
I did not appreciate receiving unsolicited and inappropriate mail from this company. Their approach seems designed to cause fear and suspicion between neighbours.
‘This company/man are seriously lacking in morals… I am a nurse, not a solicitor or company trying to get cash from you, I just hate it when people try and cause other people unnecessary expense, hardship and heartache!’
If these reviews cannot make surveyors and professional bodies understand how poorly the public perceive us, then I don’t know what can. There should be a collective responsibility to maintain standards, trust, integrity and credibility.
Sending these letters can provoke an unnecessary dispute, and takes away the building owner’s ability to inform their neighbour of the proposed works in their own, personal way.
There have been issues whereby vulnerable people have appointed surveyors not fully understanding the implications of the appointment (for example the elderly, those living with dementia etc.). The ambulance chaser has no idea who he is contacting. A surveyor on the other hand, is often advised by the building owner as to how best to approach the neighbour. Often, they like to take the notices round in person to discuss their proposals. Further, where a person is vulnerable, the building owner will often visit that neighbour in the presence of their family or carer, to ensure the proposals are explained in clear, easy-to-understand language. The ambulance chasers, relish on taking this opportunity to be neighbourly away from both parties. The Party Wall etc. Act 1996, designed as a safety net to resolve disputes, is turned on its head, with attempts to create a dispute before the Act has even been invoked.
The letters have evolved and are less ‘scaremongering’ than they have been historically. However, in most cases, it is the same surveyors sending these watered-down letters to appease watchful eyes. What cannot be monitored however, are the phone conversations. Surveyors, when giving advice on how to respond to a notice, stand to gain over £1,000 if they can persuade the neighbour to appoint them. Few surveyors will say ‘don’t worry, you’ll be fine’ and forsake their fee. Instead, they are likely to add passing comments designed to cause alarm, ensuring they are appointed, and entitled to their handsome fee.
I have been informed by a fellow party wall surveyor, on the day of writing this article, that 'an 80 odd year old lady' was told 'that if she did not appoint him (the ambulance chasing surveyor) her daughters would not be able to inherit her house.' This really goes to show how these letters can act as an almost respectable front, encouraging contact by phone to ensure the scaremongering evidence trail is left cold. The purported surveyor to have stated this, is on the list of ambulance chasing surveyors within this article. One can only imagine the stress caused to a vulnerable person, who no doubt wished to have her fears allayed by engaging with her saviour - the expensive ambulance chasing party wall surveyor.
The letters nearly always state (often in bold and underlined) that the neighbour needn’t worry, as any fees are not met by them, but rather the building owner. They don’t mention what these fees are, and that they may be unnecessary, so a recipient of an ambulance chasing letter will often engage with little thought. Further, costs can be awarded against the neighbour for various reasons, so triggering a dispute is not as rosy as these letters suggest.
An ambulance chaser’s justification:
The surveyors sometimes attempt to justify their behaviour by saying that they just want to raise awareness of the party wall act. However, they just want the money – if they wanted to raise awareness, why write to the neighbours? Why not just write to the building owner? Better still, why not work with architects and builders to raise awareness?
Interestingly, the ambulance chasers will tend not to send letters if they are instructed by a building owner to serve a notice. This is for the obvious reason that they would not wish to undermine the building owner, who would likely complain if these unsolicited letters were sent out to his neighbours. These double-standards are another indication that the ambulance chasers know what they are doing is wrong, If, they wouldn’t do it to their own schemes, why do it to others?
Related to this, an ambulance chaser will not send letters that may affect their referrers. For example, if a surveyor is aware that the drawings on the planning portal were done by a company called ‘loftbuild’ (name is fictional for illustrative purposes), and loftbuild referred work to them, they wouldn’t send the ambulance chasing letters for fear of getting caught and losing a loft company that refers work to them. In this case, loftbuild would likely cease from referring work to the surveyor due to their letters potentially creating disputes, stalling builds and upsetting clients.
Lastly, one of the ambulance chasing practices (Peter Barry) write on their website 'often an adjoining owner only becomes aware of the neighbour's proposed works when a party wall notice lands on their doormat'. No, Peter Barry, they often first become aware when you, and the companies named, send your ambulance chasing letters - but of course, this isn't mentioned on any websites. Best to be discreet.
Professional bodies have a mixed response to ambulance chasing. The majority accept ambulance chasing, with the faculty and the academy taking the middle-ground:
👎 RICS: They accept ambulance chasing.
👎 The Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors: They accept ambulance chasing, subject to certain conditions.
👏The Institute of Party Wall Surveyors: They do not accept ambulance chasing and state it will not be tolerated.
👎 The Party Wall Academy: They accept ambulance chasing, subject to certain conditions.
👏Pyramus and Thisbie: They do not accept ambulance chasing.
What we can do
Leave bad reviews. Challenging this poor behaviour is the only way it can be stopped. Surveyors driven by money will start to take stock if they realise their actions can have financial consequences. Bad reviews often steer the public away from a surveyor and can serve as a warning to those who wish to engage in that surveyor’s services.
Contribute to forums. There is little information out there about this problem, so if we all contribute, the problem will become more visible and we can work together to think of ways in which we can tackle it. This article is a start, but ideally others will contribute their ideas and we can work together to increase the respectability of party wall surveyors.
Name and shame. Don’t hold back. If you don’t wish to name and shame yourself, you can send letters to me at email@example.com and I will publish their names.
Many of these surveying practices work with architects and builders who don’t know that they are engaging in this type of behaviour. Imagine this: a construction company refers work to a surveyor. The surveyor habitually sends unsolicited letters to neighbours, encouraging a dispute, causing additional costs to the construction company’s clients as well as delaying the construction company’s preferred start date for the build. It is likely that if the company found out about their surveyor’s behaviour, they would stop referring work to him. Money talks.
Take advice. Is the ‘ambulance chasing’ surveyor’s letter of appointment valid? For example, if the Act is not invoked until a notice is served, then a letter of appointment preceding a notice may not be valid.
Is there another way of dealing with this by bypassing the surveyor? For example, if the surveyor won’t step aside, why not get an ‘agreement’ drawn up instead of an award? This has been done before, and two parties to a dispute can agree to essentially bypass the party wall act altogether by way of an agreement. This could allay the neighbour’s fears whilst also ensuring matters are dealt with by decent surveyors.
Pressure professional bodies. Why are their members allowed to ambulance chase? Complain, send copies of the letters received to the professional body explaining briefly why you are unhappy. Enough complaints may ensure that they take stock, and reassess their approach to ambulance chasing.
What to do if you receive an ambulance chasing letter:
Do not engage or respond to the letter. Speak with your neighbour and if you wish to speak with a party wall surveyor, ask a friend for a recommendation, or find one online (do a little research as to credentials / reviews). You can contact Pyramus & Thisbie (P&T) or The Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors (FPWS) who can give initial advice and put you in contact with a suitable surveyor. The only slight issue with approaching the FPWS, is that they allow ambulance chasing, so it might be better to go with P&T so that you don’t inadvertently end up with… an ambulance chaser!
In terms if disposing of these letters, here is an idea:
1. Gather the ambulance chasing letters. Crumple them up.
2. Soften the letters by soaking them in a water-filled bucket. This helps to remove all that pointless ink. Leave in the bucket for several minutes, or until the letters are mostly ink-free.
3. Transfer the letters to a pot. Fill with water and then simmer on the stove for up to an hour.
4. Remove the pulp - you can add certain personal care items to help prevent it from drying out. Options include baby oil or fragrance-free lotion. Use a few tablespoons and mix it in the pulp with a spoon.
5. Spread out the pulp with a spoon on a flat, clean towel. Make sure you create a thin and even layer (you may use a rolling pin for assistance). Add another dry towel on top of the paper layer to help remove any water left in the pulp. You can also add heavy objects on top of the towel to assist.
6. After a few hours, you can remove the top towel and bring the letters out into the sun. Leave them outside until completely dry.
7. Peel the now-dry letters, and cut sheets to size.
8. You now have toilet paper.
9. You know what to do… 💩
Alternatively, crumple the letters up and see who can get them in the bin from the furthest distance.