Annual Report 2015/16 – Consumer Code for Home Builders

The first  Annual Report by the Consumer Code for Home Builders since April 2014, was finally published this month.

In May 2014, I asked the question, Is the Consumer Code for Home Builders (CCHB) fit for purpose? In March this year I wrote that the Consumer Code for Home Builders is failing new homebuyers. This voluntary code was launched in April 2010 and has been inadequate and failing new homebuyers ever since.

In July, a report published by the APPG Inquiry Into Quality of New Homes found that:

  • “The Code [Consumer Code for Home Builders] does not appear to give homebuyers the safeguards we think they should expect.
  • It does not appear to us objectively to offer consumers a wholly satisfactory form of redress.
  • The Consumer Code for Homebuilders is limited in its scope.”
APPG Inquiry Report Publication 13 July 2016

APPG Inquiry recognises a government-appointed New Homes Ombudsman should be set up.

The APPG Inquiry “Key recommendation” is the setting up of a government-appointed New Homes Ombudsman.  It said that the Ombudsman:  would need to be completely independent and replace the dispute resolution service offered as part of the Consumer Code for Home Builders.”                                        

Annual Report Consumer CodeThe information contained in the Code’s belated, recently published “Annual Report 2015” covering the years 2014/15 and 2015/16, fails to justify the continued existence of this industry- led voluntary Code, in my opinion.

The Code’s latest Annual Report claims: “the industry has made great strides in producing and updated Consumer Code which is fit for purpose in today’s world.” So by implication, the previous three editions of the Code were not fit for purpose!  It remains to be seen if the latest revision, due to be implemented in April 2017, will be any better especially given the housebuilders’ continued indifference towards promoting the Code’s very existence to their customers and adhering to its Requirements. The main drivers behind this latest review would appear to be the desire for the Code to meet the Chartered Training Standards Institute’s (CTSI) Consumer Codes Approved Scheme (CCAS) accreditation requirements.

This Annual Report states that:

“In 2014, the Code’s management board took the decision to gain approval through the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS). It was important to show how the Code helps strengthen consumer protection and improve customer service standards by approval of the CTSI under their CCAS. This facilitated self-regulation.” 

So how is this going nearly three years later? It will take more than the approval of the CTSI to do that! It is more likely that the 4th review of the Code is to comply with EU DIRECTIVE 2013/11/EU (21 May 2013) on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) for consumer disputes, which requires the ADR to be provided by a certified body to show it meets the principals set out in the Directive and associated Regulations. 

It would appear the CCHB is concerned that “some warranty providers are seeking the approval of similar Codes by the CTSI. [sic]” It says these Codes may offer similar protection to consumers buthas the potential of creating some confusion for consumers.” 

The Annual Report also states that the Code’s credibility was “recognised by the Help to Buy scheme, with the requirement that the terms of the Code should be observed by Home Builders promoting Help to Buy.” Given that housebuilders regularly fail to comply with even the most basic requirements, to display the Code (only around 30% comply) and give a copy of the Code to buyers (only 55% compliance), you have to ask why these housebuilders are still able to offer the Help to Buy scheme to their customers? Maybe perhaps, the confidentiality of the CCHB-AS is enabling miscreant housebuilders to get away with their non-compliance with impunity?  

So what are the proposed amendments to the Code?
  • “Improving consumer awareness of the Code by encouraging its greater prominence in sales offices. By making it a mandatory requirement that there is a visible display of the Code in Site Sales and Estate Agents offices at the point of sale.
  • Supporting online training for front-line sales staff to improve overall compliance with the Code at the point of sale;
  • Improving the pre-purchase information Home Buyers receive when making purchasing decisions such as information on event fees.”
Protecting the vulnerable

The CTSI’s CCAS requires (C5) the Code to address how Home Buyers will be treated when in their own homes require housebuilders to take into account the homebuyer’s vulnerability when dealing with them in their home, for example if the homebuyer is elderly, has a disability or English is not their first language, suggesting further assistance might be required.

“In future Code editions of the guidance provided to Home Builders, they will be reminded that their customers should not be subjected to high pressure selling techniques and the needs of vulnerable customers should be considered.”

Such high pressure selling techniques may include: encouraging a reservation by implying there are other interested parties or that there is an imminent price increase due where there is neither, offering a financial incentive for an instant decision or encouraging a reservation by refusing the opportunity to personalise the new home where the stage of construction would still allow it. So only “guidance” – should this not be mandatory?

The CTSI’s Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS) aims to promote consumer interests by setting out the principles of effective customer service and protection. It goes above and beyond obligations required by consumer law, setting higher standards and giving consumers confidence that Code members can be trusted from their right to display the CTSI “Approved Code” logo. 

This Annual Code Report re affirms “the aim of the Code (new words shown in bold) to ensure that all new homebuyers:

  • Are treated fairly at all times;
  • Are given reliable information about their purchase and consumer rights before and after they move in to their new home;
  • Know what level of service to expect;
  • Know how to access an independent, speedy, low-cost dispute resolution scheme to deal with any complaints.”

Mystery shopping results indicate this is not happening

The Code uses mystery shopping to “ensure that the effectiveness of the Code is being properly tested.”

The report published results showing that:
  • A third of homebuyers (33% – 32% in 2013/14) unaware of the Code, would know more after visiting a housebuilder’s site.
  • Site Sales awareness of the Code was 80% (78.5% in 2013/14)
  • The number of housebuilders displaying the Code is 30% (27.5% in 2013/14)
  • The number of mystery shoppers given a copy of the Code on request was 21.5%, with a further 17.5% being directed to the builders’ or Code’s website. (15% and 20% respectively in 2013/14)

Consumer Code For Home BuildersHowever buyer’s responses to Question 19 of the HBF 8-week survey: “Were you given a copy of the Consumer Code for Home Builders?”  show that despite a 19% increase in the number of completed surveys returned, there was a reduction in the number of homebuyers that received a copy down from 57% to 55%.  

So it is even more astounding that in the CCHB Chairman’s introductory statement he says that: “the industry has wholeheartedly embraced the Code when the findings in his Annual Report and adjudication case summaries clearly show clear evidence the opposite is true. 

The Code has been in existence for seven years, yet housebuilders are still failing to display the Code and promote it in their site sales offices. Nearly half of all new homebuyers are not given a copy of the Code – a clear breach of Code Requirement 1.2. Perhaps the Consumer Code for Home Builders should actually print 200,000 bound copies a year and distribute them to every housebuilder’s sales office rather than rely on often busy, site sales advisors printing a copy via a computer or photocopying when someone asks for a copy.

In the real world, housebuilders do not want to advertise and promote the Code’s existence as it would result in a dramatic increase the number of complaints for adjudication. Since April 2010, a total of just 193 cases have been brought by new homebuyers (to June 2016), 111 succeeding in full or in part. In 2015, the average sum awarded was £2,031. The Annual report confirms a downward trend of average awards over the last three years, £2,219 in 2014 and £2,651 in 2013. Adjudication decisions are final and not open to either review or appeal.

The most frequent breaches to Code Requirements by housebuilders are:
  • Failure to have a system in place for handling and resolving complaints (Requirement 5.1) (in 54% of all successful cases in 2015)
  • Failure to provide adequate pre purchase information or misleading prices (Requirements 1.5, 2.1 – in 37% of all successful cases in 2015)
  • Failure to provide reliable and realistic home completion date information (Requirement 3.2 – in 35% of all successful cases in 2015)
  • Pressure from house builder for buyers to agree to contractual changes (Requirement 3.1)
  • Unfair and/or unclear terms in sales contracts.                                  (Requirement 3.1 – in 24% of all successful cases in 2015)
  • Misrepresentation of property description (Requirement 1.5)
  • Breaching Reservation Agreements and non-repayment of reservation fees (Requirement 2.6) 

So why are these housebuilders still able to offer Help to buy?

Why are these housebuilders still registered with a warranty provider?

Why are the non-compliant housebuilders not named?

It is clear to me that the language used in the latest Code Annual Report that the CCHB is running scared of a completely independent, government-appointed, and free to use New Homes Ombudsman Service that would adjudicate on everything regarding new homes, including poor quality and warranty issues. The Code has consistently failed in its attempts to raise its profile, whilst housebuilders continue to appear to breach Code Requirements with apparent impunity.

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Sign The Petition For Better Quality New Homes

With  greater protection for those that buy them!

The only way the housebuilding industry will change for the better, is if enough people sign this petition. This Government is pre occupied with its blinkered approach to increasing quantity of new homes being built, throwing billions of taxpayer’s money at housebuilders in the process. Just last week another £5bn was earmarked for an industry that cares so little for its own customers and the quality of the product they sell.

APPG Inquiry ReportAn all party group of MPs had an Inquiry last year Into the Quality of New Homes. The Inquiry Report made ten recommendations, including the number one “key recommendation” the setting up of a New Homes Ombudsman. All of the recommendation have the potential to not only force housebuilders to improve the quality of the homes they build, but also give those that buy new homes better protection via access to a New Homes Ombudsman.petitionWe have been here before with the Barker Review of 2004, Office of Fair Trading Market Study of Home Building in the UK October 2008, and now more recently the APPG Inquiry 2016. Yet surprisingly, there has not been any legislation to force this failing industry to improve.

But the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is not listening.

Despite the over-whelming evidence, thus far, the Government is ignoring the problem of poor quality new homes. Is the Government worried that imposing new regulations on the large housebuilders could result in a backlash and a slowing down of the already inadequate levels of production, reducing the number of homes built? Perhaps.

But a large and increasing number MPs are well aware of the problems their new home buying constituents are experiencing on developments such as Taylor Wimpey’s Loddon Park, poor quality, basic preventable defects and a total indifference to sorting them out. But an individual MP is all but powerless to do anything to force through new legislation. They can only enter the lucky-dip “ballot” for Private Members Bills. Even if they are successful in getting one of around 20 slots, they could be pressured by Government whips to use their slot for shoe-horning in a bill for government ministers.


So all we can do as voters, is force the Government to respond (if 10,000 sign) and hopefully debate (100,000 to sign) the implementation of the ten APPG Inquiry Report recommendations. But only if enough people sign this petition! It is that simple.

The response to the petition thus far is as disappointing as it is surprising. For example despite all the issues buyers have with their new homes and Taylor Wimpey at Loddon Park, just 8 out of 200 buyers have signed thus far. After three weeks (23 left to go) only 280 have signed.

Calling all new home ‘moaners’, why haven’t you signed this petition?

Most new homebuyers choose not to go public with their experiences for various reasons. But by choosing to ignore this petition, it could send the wrong message to those that can re balance the new home landscape giving buyers better protection and higher quality new homes for generations to come.

Please sign the petition (it will only take a minute) here is all that is involved:
  • Click on the link
  • Tick the Box “I am a British citizen or UK resident”
  • Add your name
  • Add your e mail address   (this is used for verification purposes only)
  • Add your Postcode            (this is used for the constituency map only)
  • Click “Continue”
  • Click “Yes this is my e mail address”
  • Then check your email and click the link in the e mail that Petitions: UK Government and Parliament send you to sign this petition. Please note: You have not signed until you click the link in the email.

Finally, please e mail the Petition link it to everyone in your address book and share with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

Change will only occur if enough people stand up and demand it. Today’s badly-built new home is tomorrow’s old home. The issue of poor quality, sub-standard defective new homes will affect everyone sooner or later.

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Proposed Statutory Levy On Housebuilders That Fail To Train

farmer reviewIn February 2016, the government asked the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) to look at the labour model within the construction industry and the pressures on skills and other constraints that limit housebuilding and infrastructure development in the UK. The CLC commissioned Mark Farmer to undertake a review and his report, The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model was published on 17 October 2016.

The independent Farmer Review, commissioned by two Government departments, highlights construction’s dysfunctional training model, its lack of innovation and collaboration as well as its non-existent research and development (R&D) culture. Farmer says the construction sector must “modernise or die” and faces “inexorable decline” unless radical steps are taken to address its longstanding problems.

Mark Farmer, an independent construction labour consultant, found that the building industry was failing to invest in either training or research and development, resulting in a steadily shrinking workforce that was and is, failing to increase productivity.

He said:

“The construction industry is in dire need of change. What is clear to me following the nine months spent conducting this review is that carrying on as we are is simply not an option. The construction industry doesn’t have the impetus needed for this change. It requires external action.”

The Farmer Review  recommends that clients of construction companies – which include developers and housebuilders – that buy construction work in a way that doesn’t support industry innovation or skills development, should face a statutory levy tax charge of 0.5% of the cost of each project. They would therefore have the ability to avoid paying this tax completely, by commissioning construction in a more responsible way.P1000442Housebuilders already pay a levy to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), which funds the sector’s training board and they will also be required to pay the new Apprenticeship Levy if their employee salaries total more than £3m a year. However, the Farmer Review found that large housebuilders reclaimed 74% of the levy they paid in grants to the CITB. Perhaps this is why he is recommending a wholesale reform of the current Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), its related levy system and a “reform programme instituted including a new mandate to properly fund and drive forward both appropriate skills development and innovation to suit a modern progressive industry”

For many years housebuilders have reclaimed large amounts from the CITB, much of it for mandatory health and safety training such as: First Aid, CICS cards, site inductions, tool box talks and the CITB’s own Site Management Safety Training Scheme (SMSTS) courses. None of which is training related to or creating trade based skills. The large plc housebuilders currently pay 0.5% of their PAYE and 1.25% of their net (after tax deducted) CIS sub-contractor payments; reduced from the previous 1.5% of payments made to labour-only sub contractors. Many of the larger housebuilders forcing their labour-only subcontractors to supply minimal materials such as screws or nails to avoid the levy all together. At least housebuilders find it harder to cheat the current levy, even though they are skilled at reclaiming most of their levy contributions from the CITB as “training” grants.p1000463

Mark Farmer said existing levels of industry investment in training are:

“extremely low when viewed against other UK industry benchmarks. £180m of CITB levy (with only £140m issued back in grants) in a £100bn industry with 2.3m employees does not bode well in terms of ability to have any scalable impact.”

According to the Commission for Employment and Skills, only 57% of employers in the construction sector offered any training in 2015. The Review found that the increasing reliance on private-sector housebuilders has made the industry more cyclical, working against a long-term investment in training, as have low margins among construction companies.

Farmer said:

“If you buy a new car, you expect it to have been built in a factory to exacting standards, to be delivered on time, to an agreed price and to a predetermined quality. This needs to happen more in construction, so that the investors, developers or building owners hiring construction firms increasingly dictate the use of modern methods of delivery and invest appropriately in the skills agenda to grow this part of the industry. There are more similarities between manufacturing and construction than many people are led to believe and this perception needs to change, starting in the housing market”

“The industry’s [housebuilding] low level of self-esteem and poor image is further reinforced by the generally poor relations it has with its own clients. It is in many quarters not valued by commissioning clients [new home buyers] who accept and often even plan for poor performance.”

A YouGov poll earlier this year found that two-thirds of Britons wouldn’t consider a career in construction.

Farmer said he also wants ministers to directly intervene in certain areas to ensure many of the issues identified are rectified. Good luck with that! The ten recommendations of the APPG Inquiry Into the Quality of New Homes has thus far fallen on ‘deaf ears’ within the DCLG. It is no good commissioning reviews, reports, studies and having inquiries, if the resultant recommendations are never considered or implemented. Perhaps Government should start withdrawing state funding such as Help to Buy from housebuilders that refuse to take their training responsibilities seriously, or windfall tax the increasing profits these schemes are generating to fund construction training.

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The Redfern Review – How Is CEO Peter Redfern Doing At Taylor Wimpey?

peter-redfernIt has been over seven months since Taylor Wimpey released its results for the full year to 31 December 2015 (1 March 2016). This included a statement from Chief Executive Peter Redfern, which recognised improvement was needed with regard to his company’s poor customer satisfaction levels. Perhaps it is time to take stock and conduct our own ‘Redfern Review’.

Peter Redfern said:

“During 2015, we achieved a customer satisfaction score of 86% (2014: 87%). We are disappointed that this has slipped. Whilst we operate in a cyclical market, we strongly believe that a customer centric approach is needed throughout the cycle. During 2015 we completed an in-depth review of every aspect and stage of our Customer Journey, to identify areas of improvement and to deliver a better homebuying experience for our customers. Throughout the review, our focus has been on understanding our customers’ priorities to enable us to deliver at and ahead of expectations. We have also commenced the process of rolling out our new customer approach across the business with a focus on three main areas: our culture, management structure and process. This is to ensure that going forward we deliver the right product, supported by excellent customer service to all our customers at every stage of their journey with Taylor Wimpey.

As part of this new approach, we have developed a customer mindset focused on delivering proactive, positive and professional service, which we want to ingrain in our behaviour with customers. We have also developed and will be embedding four customer commitments in the business, focused on getting it right first time, communicating well, keeping promises and finding solutions.

In addition, during 2015, we have enhanced the capability and size of our customer service teams across the regional businesses, with the introduction of a number of key new roles. In 2015 we developed and started to implement a training programme to equip those employees interacting with our customers with the right skills to deliver a consistently great service.

We are pleased to see a positive trend in customer satisfaction in the monthly survey scores in the second half of 2015. Customer service will remain a key priority for Taylor Wimpey in 2016 and on an ongoing basis.”

So how is this new dawn of customer service going at Taylor Wimpey?

In this Redfern review, you only have to read the tweets on #thinkwimpeythinktwice and the Taylor Wimpey – Unhappy Customers Facebook Group to see it’s business as usual. Same indifference to both the quality of its new homes and customer service. But I believe something has changed – it has probably got even worse!

Taylor Wimpey’s development at Loddon Park near Reading is a prime example. One of the longest suffering buyers is Luke Mahon, who even after nearly two years of extensive remedial works, installing missing insulation and other defects, still has issues outstanding. On 26 September 2016 Luke @MyHouseSucks tweeted: 2 years ago today we moved into our new @TaylorWimpey house. Today we move back in for the 3rd time. Worst of all, it’s still not finished!” and on 1st October 2016 he tweeted: Two years this has been going on now and guess what? Our @TaylorWimpey house still doesn’t meet building regs! How do they get away it?”

Peter Redfern visits Loddon Park

A question for Peter Redfern during his visit to Loddon Park

In fact this particular development is so bad Taylor Wimpey CEO Peter Redfern even visited the site recently, presumably to see it for himself and speak with the customers his company had let down perhaps? Not a bit of it! Quite a few of the buyers at Loddon Park have confirmed Redfern didn’t speak with any of them during his visit on 13 September 2016, despite some actually requesting he did!

Peter Redfern

Buyers plead for CEO Peter Redfern to discusss their new homes.

Some took to Twitter to confirm: Luke Mahon @MyHouseSucks saying “he came to the site, but he didn’t visit my home” @myshoddyhouse said “he came, he saw (with rose tinted glasses), he avoided all residents!” He was late arriving at Loddon Park because he was apparently met by an angry buyer’s picket line at another site! Even the MP for Reading East Rob Wilson has got involved. He first met with residents on this site 14 months ago to discuss their “exhaustive and frankly unacceptable list of defects in their newly-built Taylor Wimpey properties.” He says: My constituents deserve much better and I will see to it that Taylor Wimpey delivers on its commitments.”  In his update on 17 September he adds: “Taylor Wimpey has continually assured me that it is committed to rectifying all defects without delay and that remedial works are ongoing. I remain committed to making sure Taylor Wimpey delivers on its commitments to residents and draws this sorry saga to an expeditious – albeit, long overdue – conclusion”

Peter Redfern

Peter Redfern replies to MPs but not to his customers.

On 28 July 2016 at another Taylor Wimpey development,  ten year-old Gemma Fever was injured when a radiator in the family’s new home fell on her.  Her mother Kate e mailed Peter Redfern regarding her daughter’s injuries and has confirmed to me that she has not had a reply from Redfern. Again the local MP Neil Parish, has got involved with his office speaking to a representative from Taylor Wimpey regarding the incident and the action they are taking.

Radiator falls on 10 year old girl 2

Ten year-old Gemma – Injured by a defective Taylor Wimpey new home.

So since those sterling words in the firm’s Annual Report and Accounts, how is the main man doing? Is he leading by example? Has he “developed a customer mindset focused on delivering proactive, positive and professional service”? A good start would have been making a point of visiting his customers in their defective homes, listening to their problems and doing something about it.

As for “getting it right first time, communicating well, keeping promises and finding solutions”? Nothing will change all the time the Company is run by an accountant who appears to me to be either petrified or indifferent of his company’s customers.

Has customer service been a “key priority for Taylor Wimpey in 2016”? Not on this evidence. I believe Taylor Wimpey has, and continues to fail on every account in particular, “understanding our customers’ priorities to enable us to deliver at and ahead of expectations.”

Considering the poor quality of new homes this industry produces, you may wonder why the Taylor Wimpey boss is being singled out. Well he recognised his firm has problems and made a public statement implying something was being done about it. In short there would an improvement.

So here is the Redfern Review. Must try harder?  Certainly. ‘D’ for Effort –  ‘E’ for Progress?  In my opinion, accountants are not best placed to oversee housebuilders. They know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Good with figures perhaps, but not so good at everything else.  It may surprise some that Taylor Wimpey are not Britain’s worst house builders, such is the problem within this industry.  It is now time for those in government to do something to end the misery of those who buy new homes incentivised by government policy.
A good starting point  would be to end the Help to Buy subsidy for any housebuilder failing their customers by not delivering on their aspirational marketing commitments!

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Yet more taxpayers cash for housebuilders

Yet more funding for housebuilders! Whatever became of austerity, “there’s no money left” and “balancing the budget by 2020”? So is the country now awash with spare cash? Of course not. According to the national debt clock,  the UK is borrowing another £5,170 per SECOND or £1.86m an hour! The National debt is currently £1,762,340,000,000 (1.76trn), this equates to £28,291 for every person living in the UK or £48,600 for each UK taxpayer! So I find it totally incomprehensible that another £5bn is being added, to further and unnecessarily subsidise private housebuilding under the guise of increasing the number of new homes built.cropped-cropped-P1000481.jpgWe have already had the ‘The Osborne Stupidity’ – ‘Help to Buy’ fuelling house prices and housebuilders’ record profits. Now we have the ‘The May Lunacy’ ‘Help to Build’, yet more funding for housebuilders. Last week the Theresa May’s government announced two major housing initiatives; a £3bn Home Building Fund – £2bn long term funding for infrastructure and £1bn short term loan funding aimed towards enabling smaller developers enter the market. As is often the case with government announcements of supposedly “new funds” £1.2bn of the £3bn was previously announced as the Large Sites Infrastructure Fund in 2015. In addition, a new £2bn “Accelerated Construction Programme” aiming at getting new homes built more quickly on public land.

The new £2bn fund is designed to provide 15,000 new homes on public land by 2020, supposedly by boosting housebuilding. How can this £2bn provide 15,000 extra new homes when the UK average house price is £216,750 (July 2016)? The £2bn fund will buy just 9,227 new homes in total, just over 3,000 a year to 2020! The eight largest housebuilders could easily build these with a modest increase in their output of around 4.3%, with Barratt adding just 745 more homes a year and Taylor Wimpey a mere 568. Surely it would be better, quicker and cheaper to force housebuilders to up their production, perhaps by taxing homes not started in their planning-approved landbanks?

The £2bn Accelerated Construction Fund, could be used to underwrite new developments on public land and could mean the government offer guarantees to developers that it will step in to buy properties housebuilders are unable to sell, according to Sir Edward Lister, the chairman of the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), which will oversee it.

Lister told Property Week: “The way I see that going is guarantee money rather than anything else. So it’s about us going to a housebuilder and instead of expecting the normal build-out rate of 50 units a year we’ll say, ‘We want you to build all 500 in one go and what we’ll do is guarantee to take them off you if you can’t find a buyer”.

Property Week reported that the HCA would sell the homes on the open market or to private or social landlords with at agreed prices set before the government select which development schemes to back. How is a £2bn fund going to be able to step in and buy up to 450 extra homes on each site as Lister implies? Surely this latest scheme is being aimed at small house builders, probably following many weeks of lobbying by the Home Builders Federation (HBF) who were at last week’s Conservative Party Conference. So why isn’t this latest round of Government funding for housebuilders limited to those that currently build less than 30 new homes a year?

The Government will identify sites within its own property portfolio which can be built on by 2020 and will deliver outline planning permission and undertake the costs of some remediation work to reduce commercial viability risks on these sites. Hardly aimed at small housebuilders!

Unsurprisingly, the Home Builders Federation  has been quick to back the new funding for housebuilders, suggesting it will help small firms come back into speculative housebuilding, even so it claims “more is needed particularly to help smaller builders play a part” HBF spokesperson Steve Turner said he expected small firms and new entrants to the market to be the biggest beneficiaries of the fund, which is also expected to offer land on a “buy now, pay later” basis and with planning permission already granted. Never mind “anyway you can de-risk that process will help” –  it will be completely risk free! Talk about cake – both having it and eating it!

Taxpayers should be grateful that the fund is limited to ‘just’ £2bn. Free public land (no upfront cost) with planning permission and a guaranteed buyer at the outset, what’s not to like? Now anyone with a truck can make a 25% profit building homes for an outlay of just the building costs, around 40% of the value and they can get access to £1bn of short term loan funding for that too! All with the potential to leave the British taxpayer with impossible to sell, badly-built new homes.

The Government should be funding the building of council houses if it is serious about increasing Britain’s housing stock for everyone, not just aspiring home owners. The move towards a “dystopian meritocracy” with housing policies designed to grab the headlines is aimed purely at increasing the level of home ownership through government schemes, subsidising private companies within the industry and their customers, is as misguided as it is unfair. There is nothing wrong with renting a home. Britain should be building decent council homes, built by local building contractors, not subsidising an entire industry and its customers, with a policy which has so far failed in its attempt to achieve any meaningful increase in housing output and will in all probability, continue to do so, because plc housebuilders will never build the number of new homes needed.

It is time the government switch focus away from funding for housebuilders pursuing quantity and look to improve the  quality of new homes. Housebuilders can well afford to build better quality new homes and give those that buy them better service when they find problems. All the measures recommended in the APPG Inquiry Report would also cost UK taxpayers absolutely nothing at.

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Why do so few new homebuyers complain and go public?

This was a question I was asked at the APPG last November. Surely, if there was a real problem with the quality of new homes, why is it that so few actually complain and go public with their experiences? It is a question I often ask myself, knowing as I do that 93% of new homebuyers will report problems to their housebuilder very soon after being handed the keys.  Imagine the public outcry if 93% of new cars went back to the dealer for faults to be fixed after a few days or weeks! Indeed, if new homes were cars they wouldn’t be fit to go on the roads! So why is it that out of a potential 129,300 people that bought a new home in the year to 30 June 2016 and reported problems to the housebuilder, most chose to stay silent? Even more astounding are 86% that the HBF claim “would recommend their housebuilder to a friend” – although the HBF 8-week customer survey results appear to be being manipulated by the big housebuilders.

Adversely  affect the future value – more difficult to sell

Lord Richard Best said: “I think another factor could be that people don’t want to moan about their new home having invested such a large amount of money, and knowing that one day they’re going to sell it to. It’s counterintuitive to rubbish something that you’re going to sell later, which you’ve invested so heavily in.”

His Lordship is not wrong there. It has even been known that some large plc housebuilders try to silence unhappy buyers by implying that going public on social media, could blight the development and owners could suffer negative equity saying, “do you really want to be the cause of lower house prices where you live? What do you think your neighbours would say?”


It could also be that many new homebuyers are embarrassed, facing the sudden realisation that, having paid large sums of money for their homes, they could have and perhaps should have, taken more time and done at least some research, on both the development and the housebuilder before signing on the dotted line. Perhaps some may have avoided buying from a housebuilder rated just three stars by their own customers, or one that employs very few site managers capable of winning an NHBC Quality Award. Yet in 2015,  18,350 buyers still bought either a Persimmon or Bovis new home.

Ignorant of defects

Most new homebuyers are young naïve first-time buyers attracted by the prospect of home ownership by Help to Buy and other government schemes. Most of the others are naïve first-time new-build buyers. Inexperienced, they do not know what standards to expect and what is acceptable and what is most definitely not. Most new homebuyers are not building experts, yet surprisingly very few pay for their home to be professionally inspected and snagged before they move in. Many even use the solicitor the builder suggests and do not seek or take note of the good advice available online. These are the builder’s favourite buyers; trusting, easy to please and easily fobbed off!

What happens on site stays on site

On most new developments, site managers and sales advisors work together to prevent complaints and defects getting back to their regional offices. All too often, buyers give the sales staff a hand-written list of things they want sorting out on a scrap of paper. Whether these items get fixed properly or not, no one has any record, not the new homebuyer, or more importantly, the housebuilder’s regional office.

Intimidated or scared of the housebuilder

Quite a few new homeowners are so intimidated and concerned about possible ramifications that they choose to either say nothing, or accept whatever excuse or explanation their housebuilder tells them when they report something wrong with their home. “its within tolerance” and “you’re being picky”  for example.

Do not want the disruption of repairs

It cannot be under-estimated the amount of disruption that new homebuyers suffer when trades return to fix their sub-standard workmanship and defects, all of which the housebuilder failed to check or get right before the buyer first moved in. Add in taking time off work and potential damage to carpets and possessions, it is not surprising many choose to accept the defect in the certain knowledge that to sort it out would mean extensive works, dust, dirt and in some cases actually moving out. Some new home buyers may  decide to undertake the work themselves “if you want a job doing right…etc” rather than have the prospect of the same unsupervised bodgers returning for a second attempt!
Taylor Wimpey remedial work after 9 months

Evelyn Lallo's Taylor Wimpey New Home On BBC South Today

Gagging Order/Confidentiality AgreementGagging Orders

Or to use the legal term non-disclosure or confidentiality clauses. These are added to agreements which buyers sign before they receive compensation from housebuilders. More often than not they also have a requirement for the new homeowner to delete any social media messages and take down their blogs or websites critical of the housebuilder and their home. The Internet is a powerful resource and is forever, the housebuilders know this.


The British disease

It is a well known fact that the British don’t like to complain. Far better to suffer in silence. “Is everything alright Sir? Madam?” Yes they say! Of course it is – the meal may have been horrible, the hotel room noisy or dirty or staff rude and indifferent. It’s all too easy to say nothing likely to cause conflict and just vow never to go there again. But by doing so, nothing is ever going to change. Even so most people choose to say nothing, leaving it to someone else. It’s exactly the same with new homes.

The young are less likely to complain

This is not just a question of older people being more grumpy. These people have the wisdom and life experiences and have learned over many years that you don’t get what you want, what is morally right, unless you are prepared to do actually something about it. They know what is acceptable and certainly what is unacceptable. This baby-boomer generation will have had a better education and therefore are better equipped to write a structured letter stating what is wrong and what outcome they are looking for. This is something that younger people can struggle with.

Haven’t got the time

Oh if only I had a pound every time I heard that one! They find time to go shopping, to get tattoos. They find the time to text all day. They have time to watch rubbish reality TV. They are permanently on Facebook – a website wasting the time of a billion lives globally. Yet these same people are “too busy” to sign a petition that might just force the government to do more for new homebuyers than throwing ever-increasing amounts of taxpayer’s money at plc housebuilders. They are “too busy” to write to their MPs to inform them of their defective new homes and indifferent housebuilders. Some do find time to make timid posts in closed, single-builder Facebook Groups rather than join forces and stand up and be counted as the first generation that together, says we have had enough, we will get this changed.

In the meantime, no doubt a trickle of suffering new homebuyers will be brave enough to face the TV cameras from time to time on programmes such as BBC Watchdog, with their sorry tales of woe. Programmes that allow the housebuilders to respond: “we are sorry that on this occasion, we have not met our own high standards. We are working with the buyers concerned to resolve their issues as quickly as possible.”

And so it goes on. The silent majority of new homebuyers through their own inaction are in their own way, as bad as the housebuilders that built their defect-ridden new homes. New homes are poor quality, of this there is no doubt. Large plc housebuilders prioritise profit over people – fact. So why are people not protecting themselves and doing at least some research before buying a new-build home? It could be argued that consumers spend more time deciding which  new pair of shoes to buy than they do buying a new home.

Never before has so much, been owed to so few, by so many

A very few new homebuyers do get active. They set up residents groups, Facebook groups, post on Forums, some even writing of their experiences on their own website or blog.

A brave few are even prepared to be interviewed on national television or in the national press. People like Sue Oliver, who highlighted on Channel 4 Dispatches last November how Bovis had tried to prevent her seeing (and wanted to doctor) a report on her home. (below)Bovis Doctor report e mail DispatchesPeople like Luke Mahon and his fellow Loddon Park residents, so angry about the defects in their Taylor Wimpey new homes they have shouted loudly; although after two weeks only six have signed this Petition! Carolina and Roberto Revilla also long-suffering Taylor Wimpey new homebuyers also appeared on Dispatches. In national press James Hayward tells the Daily Mail he was so angry he set up a website and there is Andy Bell who bought a Persimmon new home.

Kirsty Burton was one of several feisty new homebuyers determined to force housebuilders, [Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Barratt] not only to fix their homes but pay meaningful compensation, which Persimmon have agreed to do at their Hunters Gate development in  Grantham. In an interview for the Daily Mail Mrs Burton said at the time: “We have suffered unimaginable stress and Persimmon have fought us every step of the way.” But how did they get on? Were the problems with their homes sorted out? How long did it take? Where are the warnings to others? To be sure, even the most angry new homebuyers go quiet in the end. Why are they not telling others of their experiences or how they got compensation and how much? Why are they are not now campaigning for better quality and better customer service? petitionEven more inexplicable is that at the time of writing, most unhappy new homebuyers have not even bothered to sign this Petition  to force Government to implement the  ten APPG Inquiry recommendations, especially, the setting up of a New Homes Ombudsman. A simple task that takes around a minute to do!


Insulation being fitted in Luke Mahon’s Taylor Wimpey built new home at Loddon Park

New homebuyers often feel isolated when they try to make a complaint. The first thing housebuilders say is “this is an isolated incident, don’t speak to your neighbours about it,” and it’s incredible that most appear to have a system in place to bully their customers into that. Divide and conquer. Loddon Park new homebuyer Luke Mahon was told by Taylor Wimpey not to talk to his neighbours.  He says the way that Taylor Wimpey act towards their customers is “quite intimidating. First of all they try and isolate you and try and make out it’s just you and no one else is affected. And then they kind of try and make it feel like your making a lot of fuss, things like oh well you’re being very picky”  You can hear his experience of Taylor Wimpey  here

A single twig can be easily snapped, but not when it is part of a bundle tied together! So it is very strange that so few homebuyers appear willing to get organised and join forces against their housebuilder. That is apart from making a few comments in these Facebook groups for a short while.

Unhappy New Home Buyers604 members (Public)

Taylor Wimpey Unhappy Customers – 275 members (Public)

Persimmon Homes and Customer Services  – 83 members (Public)

Persimmon – Unhappy Customers  – 304 members (Public)

Barratt Homes = The new faulty towers  – 200 members (Public)

Bovis Homes Victims Group  – 380 members (Closed)

Homeowners Rights Network  – 289 members (Closed)

I have been campaigning for more than seven years for a better deal for those that buy new homes and I don’t even own a new home! I won’t be giving up until, at the very least, buyers can take disputes to a government-appointed New Homes Ombudsman! 

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APPG push for Implementation of New Home Inquiry Report Recommendations

It has been nearly three months since the APPG Inquiry Report Into the Quality of New Homes was published along with its recommendations on 13 July 2016.APPG Report Publication 13 July 2016

After some not inconsiderable enquiring to the APPG MP’s, I was contacted by Helen Hayes (pictured below) last week who has kindly updated me and confirmed the current situation:

Labour MP Helen Hayes

“The APPG’s inquiry report has now been published and has been presented to the government for a response.  Oliver Colvile has met with the Prime Minister to discuss it, and I understand that the initial response was quite positive.

The APPG awaits the government’s formal response, and when Parliament resumes sitting we will seek to chase this if it is not provided in a timely manner.  It is not within the power of an APPG to implement the recommendations of the report, as this is a matter for the government, and the setting up of a new Ombudsman would require legislation which it would be for the government to introduce – even if the government takes up this recommendation, which I hope they will, this would take some time to progress through Parliament.

All members of the APPG are fully signed up to the recommendations of the report and will continue to work towards their implementation through the routes that are available to us as back bench MPs and members of the APPG.

APPG Inquiry ReportThe MP for Dulwich and West Norwood also told me that APPGs are open to any MP and that I may wish to encourage my own MP, Andrew Tyrie, to become a member of the APPG EBE and to attend APPG meetings so that he can represent my views directly. In addition, MPs can enter into the ballot for Private Members Bills, and could choose to progress the setting up of a New Homes Ombudsman in this way if they are successful.

So progress is slowly being made towards the setting up of a New Homes Ombudsman and the implementation of the APPG Inquiry Report recommendations. It is refreshing to know it is not being kicked into the long grass. On a personal level, I would hope that MPs, including my own Andrew Tyrie, bring up the subject of poor quality new homes and the setting up of a government-appointed New Homes Ombudsman for discussion at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham during this week.

It is beholden on all new homebuyers, that they now write to their MP and insist they actively support the full implementation of all the APPG Inquiry Report recommendations, especially the setting up of a New Homes Ombudsman. Moaning on about their homes and house builders on social media is not going to change or achieve anything! In the meantime, defective new homes are injuring children!

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HBF claim the number of new homes built is being under-reported by government.

After repeatedly failing to meet government housebuilding targets, the Home Builders Federation (HBF) now claim, quite amazingly, that the government’s official figures for new home completions are wrong and understate the number of new homes being built by its membership.

So just as the government looks to blame the large housebuilders for its own failed pledge to build 200,000 new homes a year, – “1 million new homes by 2020” – which was clearly never going to happen, the housebuilders’ barking Rottweiler [HBF], growls its disapproval by stating in every news outlet and construction publication within the influence of its PR machine, some nonsense about not all new home completions are being “counted” in both the official quarterly and annual figures published by the DCLG.

The HBF claims that up to 30,000 new home completions are not counted and included in the government’s official figures. The HBF blame “poor returns from local authorities and a flawed methodology” for the failing to record every new home built.

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation (HBF) said:

“House building has increased significantly in recent years but the continual publication and use of inaccurate statistics is painting a negative picture that is undermining the progress being made in tackling the housing shortage.

The Government’s housing policies and the industry are [sic] delivering, and it is incredibly frustrating that official statistics are not reflecting what is happening on the ground but instead presenting an open goal for critics.”

The HBF also claim that “Net Supply of Housing ‘data series, which is only published once a year and is drawn from more reliable sources more closely linked to the numbers Local Authorities use for determining their Council Tax Base show that more than 181,000 homes were added to the housing stock in 2014/15 – the last numbers available – of which 155,000 were new build, up 20% year on year. An analysis by the Home Builders’ Federation showed Whitehall’s quarterly and annual House Building Statistics under-report new build completions in 75% of local authorities.”

But according to the HBF’s own headline-grabbing “Ghost towns” report, 20,650 of the 181,300 “new homes” they claim were built in the year to 31 March 2015, were change of use to residential; 4,950 were from conversions and 630 were other net gains. Reducing the HBF claimed figures still further were 10,610 net demolitions! Even by the HBF’s own flawed figures and miscalculations, the number of actual new homes built by housebuilders was a maximum of 144,460 in the year to 31 March 2015. However, as can be seen in the DCLG graphic below, the latest official figures state 139,030 for new home completions for the twelve months to 30 June 2016, only 6% higher than the previous twelve months, with   just 61% being built by Britain’s 15 largest housebuilders. Furthermore, the latest figures show new home completions  at 18% below the 12-month peak to 31 March 2007 (168,640).

DCLG Official housing completions 2013 to 30 June 2016

Real figures, Britain’s housebuilders are failing to build enough new homes. FACT

london's backyard-shanty homes2

New home completions? The HBF would probably like to count these too!

How can the HBF can lay claim to have made “progress to tackle the housing shortage” when fewer new homes are being built right now than were being built in 2007? What next? Perhaps the HBF will want the new home completions figures to include new bedsits, care home bedrooms, park homes, static caravans, hotels, B8Bs and perhaps even London’s new-build shanty homes, they are after all, new and homes to someone! Anything to distract from their memberships’ landbanking and profiteering from a housing shortage it causes and maintains by drip-feeding the supply of new homes to increase prices [and profits] through scarcity.

Instead of trying to spin housebuilders’ underperformance of both quality and now quantity, the HBF would do better to focus on what their industry is not doing and seek improvement, rather than repeatedly trying to make the unacceptable performance of this industry appear better than it is in reality. Still at least this made a change from their usual lobbying PR about planning: rules, delay, and cost; skills shortages and land availability.


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Persimmon Homes Employee Reveals All In Secret Recording Of Meeting

Persimmon Contracts Manager’s site meeting rant.

Secret recordingA few weeks ago I was given part of a secretly recorded site meeting. In the recording, which I am of the opinion is genuine, a Persimmon contracts manager expresses his opinions.  The priorities of Persimmon Homes – would appear to be, build as many new homes, as quickly as possible. Or in his own words let’s make as much f***ing money as we can; let’s slash out as many f***ing units as we can because the market allows us.”  

This is part of a two-hour recording, made in November 2015 during a Persimmon Homes South Coast Region sub contractor’s site meeting. It was sent to me by one of the sub contractors, also told me:

“These are the most damning statements any contracts manager could possibly say about their company, seriously damning words about potential purchasers of their houses. Existing dwellings that have no building standard fire protections. Fact and it’s all RECORDED, all two hours 27 minutes of it! Buildings are sub-standard and some are dangerous. The NHBC are to blame as well as they passed 99.9% of work that inspectors shouldn’t have. 40 % of the plots have no secondary DPC tray system which in turn will mean the sole/base plates supporting the timber frame houses will ROT very quickly.” 

I don’t know what is more shocking, that any housebuilder would appoint this individual a contracts manager; or that having done so, anyone in that position would express such personal opinions in public meeting. This does indicate that if this is typical of the calibre of person Persimmon employs to oversee their site managers, then it is hardly surprising the company has never been rated a five star housebuilder by its customers!  Download to hear it for yourself  – but be aware there is a lot of foul language!

“Award-winning” ex-site manager from Barratt?

“I had 14 years at Barratts. I worked for BDW Southampton and I won, er Christ, seven Pride in the Job Awards…… site manager of the year for the division three times, regional three times, national runner-up twice.”

Comment from the room: “they have good agents at Barratts”

“They have their moments, they have their moments. They’re a lot better than they were. I had a conversation with a guy the other day that we were hoping would come and join us [Persimmon] and I’ve said to him, we are where Barratts were about ten years ago.”  

Persimmon homes flag“If your interested, the reason why it is like it is at the moment, when I first came onto Persimmons I came over to the top and at that time, they wanted to be a five star builder and it took us about 18 months and we got up to five star builder status and it was really, really good [note: Persimmon have never been a 5 star rated housebuilder] and we were doing 350 to 400 a year. “ 

“They then had a change of senior, senior management, Mike Farley was the chairman at that time [he means CEO!) and he wanted to be a five star builder. He then got to five star builder and he then retired, and Jeff Fairburn came in. The story’s common f***ing knowledge Jeff Fairburn, Nigel Greenway, and there’s one other, there’s four altogether, they’re on a one hundred million pound bonus on 2021, if by 2021, they can pay out £21 in share dividends in total by that time. [Persimmon director’s LTIP bonus is actually conditional on returning capital, 900p per share, to shareholders by 2021!] the emphasis has gone to let’s make as much f***ing money as we can; let’s slash out as many f***ing units as we can because the market allows us.”  

“They are ahead of schedule, the way they are going at the moment they will actually pay out in 2018. So in 2018, you know we’re all in here now, we’re all blokes, we’re no different to them, if someone came along and said you’d got thirty million, you’d got thirty million, you’d got twenty million, you’d got twenty million, are we gonna carry on working? No we’re not. So then they’re go, so then you’ll get new people coming in, who will then have a different agenda again.” 

“How sh*t Persimmons are..”

“Because obviously… what makes me laugh is we’ve been on the telly; how sh*t Persimmons are across the country. We’ve been on the telly; how sh*t Charles Church are. All over the f***ing place, Dispatches, BBC One, you name it they’ve been on it, over the last 8, 9, 10 months how crap they are. You go on the internet, and you’ve got all these f***ing websites: don’t buy a Persimmon home, don’t buy a Charles Church home they’re sh*t, blah blah blah blah blah right? Yet you will still get people paying two hundred, in excess of half a million pounds in some cases, for a house and they won’t even go and look at it, until the day they’re due to complete, until they’ve paid for the f***ing thing.” [Note: most housebuilders actually refuse access so buyers or their snagging inspectors cannot check the property!] 

“Mugs” only buy Persimmon “because we are cheap”

“So who is the f***ing mug?  Because if I was parting with half a million quid, I’d like to go and see it before I parted with it. But you still get people today and you look and them and think, you’ve seen how shit we are on the telly, you’ve seen how shit we are on the internet, people saying don’t buy from us and you still do! And the reason why they do is because we are cheap. We are, not Waitrose, we are not even Tescos, we are the Lidls and Aldis of the construction industry. As we all know the Lidls and Aldis of the f***ing supermarket world are getting bigger and bigger and bigger. That’s what the public want. Now unfortunately, the knock-on side from our point of view is we get shit, f***ing surveys in the office and get moaned about a hell of a f***ing lot.” 

Comment from the room: “So what star builder are we at the moment?”

“We’re just about scratching on a one. This year were doing 350, this year we’re doing 800- right, in two years right. Next year…..”

Whilst it is clear he doesn’t really know much of what he is talking about it is nevertheless quite revealing. I hope to be able to provide the full length of this secret recording in due course, once I have transcribed the main highlights. Watch this space!

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A million new homes by 2020?

Who is the government  kidding?

On 21 September 2015, the then housing minister Brandon Lewis, stated on behalf of the government on BBC that it intends to build “a million new homes by 2020”. ie by the end of this parliament. A million new homes in a shade less than 5 years, around 200,000 a year. Big statement, big promise. Everyone will remember George Osborne’s “we are the builders” being seen wherever he could, wearing a hard hat and a hi-vis jacket.  So how is this going?Building a million new homes by 2020Well, recently released figures from the Department of Local Government and Communities (DCLG) show that just 139,030 new homes were built in the year to 30 June 2016. Whilst up 6% on the previous 12 months (131,500) and 29% higher than the low recorded to March 2013 (107,820), this latest total is still 18% below the peak in the quarter to March 2007 (168,640).

Since the pledge to build one million new homes by 2020 was made, in the 9 months to 30 June 2016 just 104,140 new homes have been completed. So to be on course, another 95,860 new homes will need to be finished by the end of September 2016! Clearly it isn’t going to happen.

Million new homes by 2020? More “needs to be done”

Even the DCLG Communities Secretary Sajid Javid admitted that more needs to be done:

“We’ve got the country building again with more new homes started and built than this time last year. This is real progress but there is much more to do. That’s why we are going further and increasing our investment in house building to ensure many more people can benefit.”

But homes being started isn’t the same as homes being completed. The “started” quarterly figures will always be higher as builders seek to protect planning permissions etc. as is demonstrated by the recently released figures from the DCLG which stated 144,280 new homes were ‘started’ in the year to 30 June 2016.DCLG Number of homes started and completedThe National Housing Federation said that between 2011 and 2014 only 457,490 new homes were built, but according to its own figures, Britain needed to build 515,510 more new homes during this four year period – a total of 974,000 or 243,500 new homes each year.

These latest figures only serve to demonstrate the industry’s continuing failure to deliver the homes that British people need. Current figures are way short of the  200,000 a year target and as long as housebuilders are allowed to hoard land in  landbanks and build at a rate that maximises profits, Britain’s housing crisis will continue. The plc housebuilders will never build enough new homes. Unless the government wakes up and begins a major council house building programme with new homes built by building contractors rather than relying on the plc housebuilders to build sufficient ‘un-affordable’ housing.

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