As a former property solicitor I can reassure you that in the right hands this process is all very straightforward. The key is in getting the right solicitor. A couple of simple pointers might assist:
1. If the estate agents recommend someone find out if the lawyers are paying a referral fee. If so, ignore. The agents won't have a clue about the intricacies so any recommendation will be pointless for something a little more complex.
2. Expect to pay a little more thn average. It will be money well spent. Budget around £850 plus VAT depending on the property value.
3. Call the Law Society for some help.
I could recommend someone I used to work with but I don't want this to look like I am plying for trade on his behalf (I'm no longer connected with the firm). If you want details let me know. If not just stick to those basic principles above and you should be okay in the absence of a direct recommendation from someone other than a spikey haired estate agent.
Our attempt to purchase a live/work unit is continuing, slowly. With the info from this thread and some further research, we asked the vendors to organise a certificate of lawfulness, which they initially agreed to.
They've now changed their minds - I think because they are concerned about sending evidence to the council that they have essentially been using the building illegally as residential only since they have lived in it.
As far as I can see, the flat is registered on the VOA website as being council tax only since 2000, easily being evidence enough of residential use only for the past four years - so it should be ok.
Does anyone have any idea what the come back could be if the vendors tried to make a certificate of lawfullness application, but the council turned it down. Would the council be likely to then start proceedings against them, saying they were in violation of planning?
I guess the nub of the question is how business rates on the work element of the unit have been evaded/avoided until now, and whether the council is likely to reimpose those. I know only because my own solicitor once warned me off a similar purchase for that reason.
Council tax records on their own are often not sufficient on their own as they don't actually prove that somebody has continuously lived at the property throughout that time.. If a certificate is refused, the dc team is likely to pass the case to the enforcement and it will be at their discretion to commence the enforcement proceedings. Worth noting that a certificate can be re-submitted with additional evidence if needed