Homebuyers have no guarantee from the Scottish conveyancing system that they will become legal owners of their property.

The Herald reported this week how four West Lothian families who bought their new homes 14 years ago still do not have clear title to ownership, and cannot hand on or sell their houses.

Our revelations came as the Scottish Government launched its Help to Buy scheme, which offers shared equity support for buying new-build homes with freshly minted title deeds.

Three years ago one of the law firms involved in trying to sort out the saga of Happy Valley Road, Blackburn, complained to the Law Society of Scotland that it was "ludicrous that a professional solicitor can be employed to buy a home, and when it is discovered that the home is built on land not belonging to the seller, they should be absolved from responsibility".

Fleming Reid also appealed to the profession's governing body in 2010 to help end the "nightmare for the clients" by "bringing pressure to bear to encourage a speedy and early resolution to this predicament".

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, set up in 2008 to address public and political concerns about solicitor accountability, can consider complaints made within 12 months of service ending, but has not been involved. The affected families are said by insiders to "have relied on solicitors to sort it out".

Mike Dailly, principal solicitor of Govan Law Centre, said: "The idea that you can make one of the biggest financial transactions in your life to buy a new house and end up not owning it, even after 14 years of wrangling, is shocking from a consumer rights perspective.

"There are clearly a number of actors in the West Lothian families' chain of events who bear responsibility: from the original new-build company mistakenly building homes on land it did not own, to the solicitors undertaking the conveyancing for purchasers. Clearly, problems were severely exacerbated when the owner of the strip of land sold it to a developer."

Mr Dailly went on: "But all of this should not be a problem for the consumer who simply wants to buy a home; they should be entitled to expect a valid title when they pay their money and instruct a solicitor. If that principle is not respected, how can anyone have any confidence in Scotland's housing market?"

He added that where there had been "a genuine technical mistake" over a strip of land or servitude rights to houses, Scottish local authorities should have powers to step in and ensure no outside buyer could try to exploit the situation.

Margo Macdonald, independent Lothians MSP, said: "There are some people who will say that the residents have been too trusting to allow it to go on for this length of time, but we must put ourselves in the position of families perhaps having young children and where there is a fear of incurring huge legal costs."

The families' legal bills are estimated by experts at £100,000, on top of the fees they paid for the original conveyancing.

Court documents show that 15 months elapsed between the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland notifying solicitors that there was a problem, described by one conveyancing expert as "extremely serious", and the strip of land being sold to developer Crannog, triggering 11 years of litigation.

No solicitor has been found liable, and the only complaint made to the SLCC resulted in a solicitor misconduct ruling being quashed.

The Law Society of Scotland has said anyone can bring a claim against their solicitor, who is insured by the society's "master policy".

But claims in these cases were contested by master policy insurers Royal & Sun Alliance, and never reached the Court of Session. RSA produced an expert report by Donald Reid, chairman of Glasgow's oldest law firm Mitchells Roberton, which said securing a legal title for the family would have been "the performance of a particularly careful and astute solicitor" not an ordinary solicitor.

Royal & Sun Alliance receives around 44% of the insurer business of the Law Society's indemnity scheme, according to a reply by the society to a question by Bruce Crawford MSP two months ago.

RSA eventually involved itself in the defence of the affected families in actions brought by Crannog, which served eviction notices and rent demands on the residents in pursuit of a settlement with the insurers. The litigation continued until Crannog ran out of cash in May 2013. Its test case against one of the families has been dismissed.

Royal & Sun Alliance said: "The matter is the subject of ongoing litigation."