Conveyancers have suffered a drop in their workload for the first time in six years, according to an end-of-year edition of a regular benchmarking survey. 

The latest market tracker by search company Search Acumen, which uses HM Land Registry data to examine competitive pressures, shows that  conveyancing volumes, both residential and commercial, shrunk by 12% last year - from 1,077,959 in 2016 to 952,966 in 2017. Firms completed, on average, 171 transactions last year compared with 193 in 2016.

Firms that completed between 100 and 200 transactions a month experienced the largest decrease in yearly activity. For the top five firms, average monthly volumes fell from 1,005 to 918. There was better news for 'occasional' conveyancers, defined as completing up to 10 transactions a month. Search Acumen says they did more work last year.

Despite the fall in volume, competition remained broadly static. The top 1,000 firms covered 72% of the market; the top five firms handled 6%. 

Andrew Lloyd, Search Acumen managing director, said: 'At the beginning of the year, the prime minister vowed that UK housing was to be an area of absolute focus for the current government, and policies like the abolishment of stamp duty land tax for first-time buyers will undoubtedly reduce the chasm between young market hopefuls and established homeowners. However, housebuilding activity fell last month for the first time since the EU referendum. The property industry continues to be frustrated with the inertia it finds itself in, fuelled by bureaucracy, politicking and setbacks.'

Lloyd said the conveyancing sector 'must operate with absolute efficiency to ensure we are prepared for a recovery in property transactions, embracing technology to create a transparent, productive offering which works for everyone'.