Weak Mortar New Homes Scandal

The great weak mortar scandal that housebuilders and warranty providers want to keep hidden.

There is now increasing incidence of new homebuyers reporting the issue of weak or soft mortar in the brickwork of their new homes. The solution if carried out, could in the worst case scenario, involve the demolition and rebuilding of the entire home, perhaps even all the homes on a development as it is also highly likely that most, if not all, of the houses were built with the same weak mortar. Needless to say both housebuilders and the warranty providers don’t want this and obstruct and frustrate new homebuyers who report weak mortar at every turn.

I first came across the weak-mix mortar issue when a foreman bricklayer I knew said he was taking down all the brickwork on a completed Bryant Homes site in Ashington, West Sussex in 2003. It would seem the mortar is question had ‘insufficient cement’ and just a quarter of the required strength.

Ten years later, I was contacted in October 2013 by an owner of a Bellway new home built in 2004 at De Haviland Way, Skelmesdale Lancs WN8 6DG. It had weak mortar and other serious structural issues. In April 2014, the then homeowner thanked me for my support, help and advice I gave regarding his NHBC warranty claim and said he could not discuss it further with me. The home, bought for £159,995 on 26 November 2004, was finally resold for £132,500 on 30 November 2016 – at a loss of £27,495 over 12 years in a rising market! I can only presume that the home was blighted, hence the knock-down price!

Just add water

Mortar Silos Since the days, when hod carriers were entrusted to mix mortar in the required proportions, often simply half a bag of cement per mixer batch, most housebuilders have switched to using pre-mixed mortar, delivered dry by tankers to site silos. All the hod carrier has to do is turn on the water tap, switch on and out comes ready to use mortar.

This has advantages over the sand and cement being mixed on site. The primary one being that all mortar would be of consistent strength, colour and workability. “High quality constituent materials are used to produce the perfect dry mix under rigorously quality controlled conditions.” And, according to the manufacturers, the availability of many different colours, any of which would be consistent throughout the building or development. The new silos offered flexibility, with easily adjusted water content to compensate for wet bricks and blocks and the ability to “mix” only use what was needed avoiding waste on site. The new electrically-powered silos meant less noise, fewer deliveries and tidier sites. Above all, the mortar was Quality Assured being manufactured to BES 6001 and BS EN 998-2:2003, and “guaranteed unrivalled quality and technical expertise.”

So what’s not to like?

In recent years there have been a growing number of new homebuyers discovering the mortar in their brickwork is crumbling and “powdery”. This is not confined to a single housebuilder or a particular geographical area. The weak mortar, which can be easily brushed or lightly scraped from mortar joints is being washed away by the effects of weather and is evident in many newly-built homes across the country. The solution (the most commonly one offered by both housebuilders and the NHBC warranty) is to rake out mortar joints to a depth of 25mm and re-point using new sometimes higher strength mortar. However, the mortar not replaced would still be of inadequate strength. More importantly, the wall ties connecting the inner and outer skins of a cavity wall will be structurally less effective. Unless the external mortar is different, it is conceivable that the structural load-bearing walls of the inner skin, hidden from view, would also have been built using the same weak mortar. During a debate in the House of Commons regarding quality in the built environment, the then APPG EBE chair Jo Churchill MP for Bury St Edmonds, used the example of:

“…the repointing of joints on walls where purposeful demolition and reconstruction should have happened”

 Weak mortar fallen out of jointsNo doubt in response to the growing incidence of weak-mix mortar.

Is the weak mortar weak caused by a site issue?

The first line of defence used by mortar manufacturers is to claim the mortar was subject to circumstances on site beyond their control, resulting in the mortar being weakened. This can be caused by the following:

1) Building masonry walls in low or freezing temperatures and/or not protecting walls from freezing overnight. “The agent lets you build at 0 degC if the NHBC is not in”

2) Mortar is damaged or weakened by the use or overuse of brick acid cleaners and/or jet washing.

3) Mortar is remixed on boards after the initial set and has started to harden.

4) Walls are built in dry hot weather and the dry bricks suck water from the mortar before it is fully hydrated.

5) Too little or too much water added during mixing.

This is often further substantiated by their own in-house factory production control compressive strength testing data. It should be pointed out that this mortar is mixed and cured in ideal, controlled conditions, which could never be realistically exactly replicated on a building site.

However, I have seen independent test results which have analysed the mortar mix proportions and these reports categorically prove that in this instance, the mortar has insufficient cement and does not meet the NHBC mortar mix technical and performance standards. 

The NHBC warranty “protection” for new homebuyers

As previously mentioned, the first line of defence (claim mitigation) is to offer a 25mm repointing of joints in the affected areas. If the homeowner refuses, the NHBC have a “mortar expert”; 85-year old Barry Haseltine, who the NHBC dispatch to buyers’ homes to carry out “independent assessments”. I am given to understand he is kept very busy!

I possess one of Heseltine’s reports and it makes very interesting reading. For a start, the disappearance of the mortar is being credited to “erosion” not caused by insufficient cement. He says:

 “the surface [of the mortar] is somewhat dusty, and when rubbed can allow sand to be removed.”

“For the last 20 years or so, cement has become a complicated subject compared with the relative simplicity that existed when we had Ordinary Portland Cement and a small number of specialist mixtures for example masonry cement”

“It is a regrettable fact that mortar has become a potential problem with regard to durability in recent years, probably linked to the use of cements that have considerable proportions of additions which reduce the active cement in the mixes.”

Haseltine’s report shows the results of 14 test samples, analysed by three different and unrelated laboratories, all reporting a cement : sand mix ratio of 1 : 7.5 at best, to 1 : 9.6 at worst, all being below the required mix ratio in the NHBC standards 6.1.14 Mortar for “general use” (not severe exposure) being 1 : 5.5  cement : sand by volume – designation (iii) under BS EN 1996-1-1.Mortar mix proportions Despite these clear proven results – at least 26% less cement than NHBC standards require and with less cement equating to weaker, less durable mortar – Haseltine concludes:

“The mix proportions that are listed in the table of analyses should not be used to judge the compliance of the mortar with the masonry codes that cover the strength of masonry, or with the Building Regulations simple rules, since the mortar supplier has supplied a design mix not a prescribed one.”

“Unless one has evidence that the strength of 4N/mm2 (M4) that defines a designation (iii) mortar has not been achieved on control tests, there can be no objection to the mortar or the strength of the walls in which it has been used. I do not think that the reduced amount of cement in the mix, as illustrated by a comparison of the analyses with the prescribed cement sand mixes in standards, will have any deleterious effect on the structure of the house, even if such a comparison were to be accepted as being relevant”

A “prescribed mix” is one where the mortar is made in pre determined proportions the properties of which are assumed from the stated proportions (recipe concept). A “design mix” is a mortar whose composition and manufacturing method is chosen by the producer in order to achieve specified properties (Performance concept)

So in summary, the NHBC’s go-to mortar “expert” doesn’t “think” that a significant (26.6%) reduction in cement quantity in a mortar mix would structurally weaken a wall or reduce its durability to withstand the extremes of weather!

Can Barry Haseltine from Jenkins and Potter be considered independent?

The Jenkins and Potter website states that “We have formed a number of close associations with housing developers after many years” – in my opinion, it is a moot point that any of their consultants could be considered truly independent of the housebuilding industry. Barry Haseltine was Chairman of the CEN Eurocode Committee for Masonry and chairman of the British Standards Institution Code of Practice Committee for the design of masonry and its sub-committee responsible for the structural masonry codes. His own reputation and credibility could be called into question if it can be shown that he is wrong. It could therefore be argued it is in his own best interests to protect the housebuilders and in doing so, ring-fence his own reputation.

It is ludicrous that mortar tested by the manufacturer’s in a controlled environment to above a 4N/mm2 compressive strength can be sold as an M4 Design Mix mortar and deemed equivalent to a mortar designation (iii) Prescribed Mix with a cement : sand ratio 0f 1 : 5.5 when the laboratory proved cement content is circa 26% less than the mix proportions required in the NHBC warranty standards require.

What is the cause?

This has yet to be fully established, there are several theories which I will explore in detail in my follow up article. However, whilst mortar suppliers are free to put whatever they like, in whatever proportions, as long as they can achieve a compressive strength of 4N/mm2 in their own tests and the warranty providers appear indifferent to requiring the specific mortar mix proportions in their standards and banning cement replacement additives such as GGBS, the number of homes with weak mortar can only continue to rise. Until there is an industry recognised compression test for mortar in-situ, new homebuyers will be forced to accept sporadic repointing as a “solution” to  defective weak mix mortar, with potentially catastrophic consequences, not only for many thousands of individual homeowners, but the overall housing supply.

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New Homes Ombudsman – APPG Inquiry 2018

The government has finally recognised the need for an independent New Homes Ombudsman and an APPG Inquiry is currently calling for evidence on how it would operate.

It is not impossible to build a defect-free new home. All that is required is the will to do so – building with care and with a thorough inspection regime that requires all sub-standard work to be taken down and re done. Yet 98% of new homebuyers report defects to their housebuilder within a few weeks.

Defects in UK new homes are injuring children!

For far too long the industry has used the “built in the open in all weathers” excuse and lowered buyers’ expectations. Bricklayers do not and cannot work in the rain! Render is not applied in the rain, yet there are many defects associated with both. Superstructure accounted for 38% of all NHBC warranty claims in the year to 31 March 2017, costing £35million (41% of total claims) to rectify. Adverse weather does not contribute to walls being built out of plumb, render cracking or missing insulation! All other trades (apart from groundworkers) work inside, often in the same conditions found in most factories.

I suggested the need for an independent, government-appointed New Homes Ombudsman when I attended the second session of the APPG EBE Inquiry ‘Into the Quality of New Homes in England’ on 23rd November 2015.

The APPG Inquiry Report, published on 13th July 2016, concluded: 

  • “Housebuilder’s own quality control systems are not fit for purpose”
  • “there needs to be an industry aspiration to achieve a zero-defects culture”
  • “good practice should be seen as building a new home that is defect-free” 

It clearly stated the number 1 “key recommendation” – the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) setting up a New Homes Ombudsman: 

“The role would include mediating disputes between consumers and their builders or warranty providers to offer a quick resolution procedure paid for by a housebuilders’ levy.

We see this is as the key recommendation to provide more effective consumer redress, if things go wrong, and a good way of applying pressure on housebuilders and warranty providers to deliver a better quality service.

Our view is that the new service should be funded by a levy on the sector, but it would need to be completely independent and replace the dispute resolution service offered as part of the Consumer Code for Home Builders. Our recommendation picks up on one made by the Office of Fair Trading, in its 2008 market study into the house building industry, which suggested that, if the industry failed to make satisfactory progress, it would recommend further intervention in the form of a statutory redress mechanism for new homebuyers funded by a levy on the industry.” 

So it is somewhat disappointing that, 18 months after the report was making the recommendation that an independent, government-appointed New Homes Ombudsman be set up to give buyers an independent form of redress, there has been so little progress. It is to be hoped that following this latest Inquiry, an independent New Homes Ombudsman will be set up by government without recourse to further delay, consultation, consideration, or review.

“Too many new homebuyers are suffering, many are physically drained as a result of engagement with errant housebuilders when trying to get their new homes brought up to warranty standards and statutory regulations. For some buyers the mental anguish has become almost unbearable.”  – Rob Wilson ex MP Reading East

The housebuilders’ lobby group the Home Builders Federation (HBF), will no doubt tell this Inquiry that (according to the industry’s own customer satisfaction survey) “84% of new homebuyers are satisfied with their new home.”  But as Communities Secretary, Rt Hon Sajid Javid alluded to in his speech at the NHBC on 29 November 2017:

too many new-build homes are simply not good enough.” You [HBF] can point to customer satisfaction levels of between 80 and 90%, something I’m often told about but [of new homebuyers] finding faults that take months and sometimes even years to remedy. It’s not just disappointing – it’s devastating. But just think about those 217,000 new homes built last year. Even if 80% of them have no issues, that still leaves well over 40,000 families living in accommodation that they don’t think is good enough.” 

Indeed they do. The HBF frequently use the 84% “satisfaction” statistic. It is a fact that the HBF use their 8-week Customer Satisfaction Survey primarily to provide data to rebut negative claims on build quality.” HBF Chair Stewart Baseley who says he is a great believer in transparency and a great believer in people having access to services that are cheap for them to use to get qucik remedies to their problems”  Nevertheless this survey is all we have at the moment. Far from “if 80% have no issues” as Javid assumes, the HBF survey actually demonstrates that 98% of new homebuyers report “problems” (in other words defects), to their housebuilder within a few weeks of moving in. Indeed 41% report more than 10 defects. The quality of new homes has further deteriorated. This is an undisputable fact, now even demonstrated by the industry’s  dubious own customer satisfaction survey results 2017.

An ever growing number of new homebuyers have to move out of their new homes, often for several months, whilst their house is taken apart to rectify serious, often structural defects. More recently, there is a growing incidence of weak-mix mortar.

It is to be noted that the APPG Inquiry deadline for written submissions has recently been extended – the day after the BBC reported on the dire quality and defective new homes – from 22 December 2017 to 12 January 2018. It is hoped this is not to give the industry extra time to get its “ducks in a row.”

The current “procedures” limited as they are, serve to protect housebuilders and the warranty providers rather than help consumers. The only “alternative”, as has been written in many letters from various housing ministers and staff at the DCLG over the years, is for buyers to take action through the courts for monetary compensation.

As most buyers realise, even those with legal expenses insurance, this is a lengthy and costly process with no guarantee of a successful and fair outcome. Indeed, housebuilders have deep pockets and vigorously defend every attempt by the very few new homebuyers who courageously take this course of action. Housebuilders do this in the certain knowledge that it will cost them far less to defend the small number of claims that could potentially end up in court, than routinely pay justifiable compensation to homebuyers. Even if an agreement is reached ahead of a court hearing, this is normally subject to a non-disclosure agreement clause, (“gagging order”) to avoid any precedent being established and to reduce likelihood of action being taken by others, often with identical issues.

It is no longer a case of getting (all be it eventually) a few minor defects and snags rectified by the housebuilder being a satisfactory outcome. Now there is a clear case for justifiable compensation paid by housebuilders and/or warranty providers, to all buyers of sub-standard defect-ridden new homes.

A recent announcement by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid on 29 November 2017, mentioned “bold options” that the Government “will look at to improve consumer redress across the housing sector” – Setting up an independent New Homes Ombudsman should be its priority. 

Worryingly, it would appear that it is the Government’s intention of rolling all existing ombudsman (Housing Ombudsman, the Property Ombudsman and Ombudsman Services’ Property, and the Property Redress scheme) into one, all-encompassing, ‘one-size-fits-all’ “Housing Ombudsman” rather than a simplified New Homes Ombudsman, purely for consumers that buy new homes. I firmly believe a separate, stand-alone, fit-for-purpose, independent New Homes Ombudsman is the only way that this industry will be forced to look inwards at what it does and make both the quality of new homes and customers, their number one priority.

As it stands, housebuilders are showing no intention of taking proactive measures to improve the quality of the new homes they build. Consumers need a fully independent means of redress. It is now essential to appoint a New Homes Ombudsman for the house building industry. All existing legislation to protect consumers, including The Consumer Rights Act 2015, does not apply to property.

During a debate in the House of Commons APPG EBE chair Jo Churchill said:

“I applaud the Department for Communities and Local Government for getting the Home Builders Federation to look into the voluntary ombudsman scheme, but perhaps the time for any such voluntary scheme has passed.”   Perhaps? 

“…the repointing of joints on walls where purposeful demolition and reconstruction should have happened” – No doubt in response to the growing incidence of weak-mix mortar.

We must have not a nice, cosy, industry-led ombudsman, but an ombudsman process that has real teeth and the capacity to make a material difference” said Tony Lloyd MP for Rochdale

A New Homes Ombudsman, by its very existence would force housebuilders to look at what they do (and don’t do) forcing them to strive to do better, in the certain knowledge that a buyer can complain to an independent ombudsman who would potentially, be able to award unlimited, justifiable compensation. Such awards would become a matter of public record. No longer would housebuilders be able to delay and defeat buyers’ repeated attempts to have their defective new homes fixed.

New Homes Ombudsman:         FREE – FAIR – FOR EVERYTHING

Free – At no cost to new homebuyers making a complaint following the housebuilder or warranty provider issuing a final deadlock letter.

Fair – A New Homes Ombudsman would (and must) be entirely independent of the housebuilding industry – something that clearly the warranty providers and the Consumer Code for Home Builders are most definitely not! Fully transparent, appointed and audited by Government.

For everything – Everything and anything that can and does arise when buying and living in a new home. Dealing with buyers’ complaints including misleading and incomplete marketing information and underhand selling practices, unfair contracts, poor build quality, defects, non-compliance with Building Regulations and/or warranty standards, inadequate or indifferent after sales service, conflicts of interest, tenure and boundary issues, contractual disputes – with the New Homes Ombudsman being able to order housebuilders and/or new home warranty providers to pay buyers justifiable and meaningful compensation awards.

The New Homes Ombudsman must be fully-independent and government-appointed, NOT one of many “Ombudsman” in the Ombudsman-services.org who act as little more than an outsourced dispute resolution service to various sectors. Cost Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) is not going to work either!

But the New Homes Ombudsman should not be part of a wider, ‘one-size-fits-all’ one-stop, general purpose “Housing Ombudsman” as the current rhetoric from Government would indicate. I was horrified that merging the various existing residential Ombudsman into one “Housing Ombudsman” is being given serious consideration even though it would also include a mechanism of independent redress for new homebuyers for the first time. Whilst this is better than the complete absence of any independent means of redress that new homebuyers currently have, it would not be in the best interests of new homebuyers if the badly needed New Homes Ombudsman was set up as part of a wider “Housing Ombudsman” service.

It would take a considerable amount of time and presumably new legislation to combine the existing ombudsmen into one office. Furthermore, the new-build industry is sufficiently large and errant to fully justify a dedicated New Homes Ombudsman of its own – which would specialise in the many unique issues and technicalities of the new-build sector. Camouflaging a New Homes Ombudsman under the umbrella of a general “Housing Ombudsman” would also make the New Homes Ombudsman less conspicuous to the very people who would need and benefit from it.

Housebuilders and warranty providers operational basis is to ‘bat away’ buyers’ complaints and warranty claims rather than work in the consumer’s best interests. Despite many years of opportunity, this isn’t going to change. It is now time, as I would hope this Inquiry will conclude, that UK new homebuyers were given something from this government. A small concession that if (or rather when) they are unfortunate enough to discover major, preventable defects in their new home, or housebuilders fail to rectify defects in a timely manner, they can apply to an independent, government-appointed New Homes Ombudsman who could award justifiable and meaningful levels of compensation.

As Communities Secretary Sajid Javid MP announced on 29 November 2017 recognising the need for an Ombudsman to give new homebuyers a form of redress, I would hope, following the recommendations and evidence I have submitted to this Inquiry, he will announce that a stand-alone independent New Homes Ombudsman will be now be set up by the end of 2018.

In the past, government ministers and the DCLG have been hoodwinked into believing that the industry’s own voluntary Code, the new home warranty and the building regulations offer sufficient protection for new homebuyers. Government also believed that consumers are “more likely to be supported by independent professional advice from lawyers and others capable of giving advice top their clients and because the terms of the contract are more likely to be negotiated.” and “they can take action through the courts for monetary compensation.”

However, despite the obvious need and benefits a New Homes Ombudsman would give consumers, many within the industry, will maintain that a fully independent New Homes Ombudsman is not necessary. Their lobbyists, the Home Builders Federation (HBF) claim “the overall quality of new homes has never been higher than it is today” stating that “the overwhelming majority of people are happy with their new homes. In the small number of cases where buyers encounter problems the industry is fully committed to completing them as soon as practically possible.”

This is quite simply, not the case.

 

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Taylor Wimpey Announces £130m Leasehold Sticking Plaster Solution To Housebuilders’ PPI

Caught in a trap! Taylor Wimpey  “sorry” for ripping off leaseholders!

Some mistakes are hard to fix.  It is better to be careful – not sorry!
Taylor Wimpey used a trading statement last week to announce their ‘conclusions’ following a review into the company’s historic lease structures. This focused solely on a specific lease structure used from 2007 to late 2011, which provides that the ground rent doubles every 10 years until the 50th year. In doing so, the company created a new asset class that is now very attractive to specialist investors, because it equates to an annual interest rate of 7%. Taylor Wimpey claimed these leases “are considered to be entirely legal.” It remains to be seen whether the charges would be deemed by a court to be ‘fair and reasonable’ Under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.
Taylor Wimpey Loddon Park Freehold but far from problem freeTaylor Wimpey now admit that: “the introduction of these doubling clauses was not consistent with our high standards of customer service and we are sorry for the unintended financial consequence and concern that they are causing.” Surprisingly, Taylor Wimpey says the total cash outflow of around £130million “will be spread over a number of years.” In addition, this only applies to the “qualifying customers subject to eligibility checks” – only those owners who bought from Taylor Wimpey are to be “helped.”

Ground Rent Review

Taylor Wimpey ground rent review letterTaylor Wimpey has written to buyers who have complained about their leases with the onerous ground rent doubling clause. In the letter Taylor Wimpey outline its “Ground Rent Review Assistance Scheme” funded by the company, which offers to negotiate on the customers’ behalf with freehold owners for a ‘Deed of Variation’ to “convert existing doubling leases to an alternative lease structure incorporating materially less expensive ground rent review terms.” with Taylor Wimpey covering the financial cost of doing so”.

The letter to buyers concludes: “we believe this is the best answer for you.”

But a look under the bonnet and we find this interesting insight contained in the Seeking Alpha transcript from a Taylor Wimpey Earnings Conference Call on 27 April 2017. In it Taylor Wimpey CEO Peter Redfern concedes:

“this [leases] is clearly an uncomfortable issue” [as they try to]  “work out what’s the best way to reduce the reputation issue for the group – a historic leasehold issue that we think is right to deal with but important to do and get right in one hit, which is what we believe this is”

“In terms of timing, we don’t expect this to result in a significant near sort of immediate cash payment from the group. We think it will be spread over a number of years.

But I think most importantly, we’re confident that this does not impact our ability to follow through on our dividend plans to potentially increase our dividends in 2018″ 

Some more questions raised by the Taylor Wimpey announcement of £130m to rectify the ground rent and leasehold house scandal

 

When asked specifically about the issue of leasehold new houses Redfern said:

“You’ll be aware there’s lots of noise around leases more generally. But our own use of leases on houses, for instance, is lower than many in the sector. And also, what stands out about this is the scale and the fairness. What’s interesting in terms of whether it becomes a wider issue which we think is unlikely, is that we haven’t had a single legal claim, including on these doubling ground rent provisions. Because people did have independent legal advice, the contract is very clear, this isn’t a case.”

 The sale of leases on houses historically, people knew they were buying a leasehold house” “And the other elements actually, sort of — people knew they were buying a leasehold house.”

Did they really Mr Redfern?  Many were forced, coerced, or otherwise financially incentivised to use housebuilders’ recommended solicitors, never a good idea and can hardly be described as “independent legal advice.” In fact a class action for negligence is being prepared against new homebuyers’ solicitors.

Many were told by sales staff, they could buy their freeholds for a few thousand in 2 years time, only to find the private firms that bought the freehold were asking £30,000 or more. Many were told, incorrectly, that leasehold house was virtually freehold. Ellie Taylor posted on the National Leasehold Campaign Facebook Group: “We were told ‘it doesn’t matter because it’s a 999 year lease and you will be long gone by then’ – I found out it was leasehold just before we signed to reserve, I went outside to call my Mum as I was concerned and they [sales staff] made out like I was being daft.”

On doubling ground rents, Redfern said:

“I still think if we’d have done a really good diligent job, we should have seen the issues at that point in time. But we didn’t. But we’re looking back now with the benefit of hindsight in a different world”

Asked if this was being done to “preempt government taking this on board and championing the home owners cause”:

“we think this specific lease class, with hindsight, isn’t quite fair. I don’t actually think it’s that likely that government will take retrospective action on that. And clearly, if we thought that was imminent or likely to happen, we wouldn’t be making this announcement today. We’d wait and see what that is. But how we read that situation is, that is unlikely.”

Ground Rent Review Taylor Wimpey It is clear to me from the transcript of this broker teleconference, that Peter Redfern has no intention of ever helping those that bought leasehold new houses to obtain their freehold, either at reasonable rates, or at no cost as part of a compensation measure. Indeed, it is clear Taylor Wimpey do not even believe they have done anything wrong selling new houses on a leasehold basis. It is to be hoped that those in government are not taken in by this token gesture (‘Ground Rent Review Assistance Scheme’) which only relates to ground rent doubling every 10 years and nothing else. Even that, Redfern predicts, will take a “number of years” to complete.

It is my opinion that Taylor Wimpey have broken ranks, in an attempt to claim a non-existent moral high ground over other miscreant house builders. Peter Redfern, no doubt in consultation with other housebuilder CEOs, who unlike Taylor Wimpey, have no plans to stop selling their new houses on a leasehold basis, made this move to give the impression the industry was contrite and doing something positive. Indeed the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership  said on their website that Sir Peter Bottomley and Jim Fitzpatrick MPs and co-Chairs of the APPG for Leasehold and Commonhold Reform, “were contacted by Taylor Wimpey last night [26 April]. They were invited to discuss the issue with CEO Peter Redfern at 10am” [27 April] following the announcement and ahead of the firm’s AGM an hour later.

This statement has the potential to pull the wool over the eyes of those in parliament who quite rightly, want the sale of new houses on leasehold banned and those leaseholders for whom it is too late, given an opportunity to buy their freeholds either at reasonable prices, or be given their freeholds by their housebuilders. Obviously the housebuilding industry does not want this. It will be very expensive, albeit still affordable, given the excessive profits being made and obscene levels of LTIP bonuses being handed to CEOs – most of which has only been achievable because of the Help to Buy Scheme.

The Taylor Wimpey statement has enabled the industry an opportunity shed some positive, pre-emptive light, on what has been and continues to be, nothing short of a national scandal, described in parliament as the “PPI of the housebuilding industry” that has been allowed (and currently perfectly legal – but not morally right) for many years. An industry-wide hoodwinking of new homebuyers, many buying with the taxpayer-funded help to buy scheme, now own virtually worthless leasehold houses.

The report of the All Party Parliamentary Group on leasehold reform, coincidentally published on the same day as Taylor Wimpey’s announcement stated:

“The current government has accepted the sale of new build leasehold houses is a key area in need of urgent reform. The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the Housing Minster have each argued strongly that there is no legitimate reason for the sale of leasehold houses unless for the exceptional circumstance where the developer cannot own the freehold.  The APPG supports the proposal to ban the sale of new build leasehold houses…”

There is not a single reason why legislation cannot be brought very soon after the election, to ban the sale of leasehold new houses.  Perhaps each party should make this pledge  in their manifestos.

It was mooted by Sajid Javid  that Help to Buy could be withdrawn for builders not selling on “fair terms” in his speech on 28 March 2017:  “Helping builders to get building“:
So I will look to ensure Help to Buy Equity Loans are only used to support new build houses on acceptable terms. This will send a serious message to the building industry: if you want the government to help you build and sell homes, you have to sell them on fair terms.”

It is time and it is right that Help to Buy is withdrawn.

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Micro Homes – Smaller Than A Hotel Room

Welcome to ‘rabbit hutch’ Britain as Government gives the green ight to even smaller micro homes

“Ridiculous” – “immoral” – “dog kennels” – “shoe boxes” – “rabbit hutches” These are just some of the words local residents have used to describe Britain’s micro homes – Government-endorsed “favelas in the sky.”

It would appear the Government is intent on cramming an ever increasing number of ‘hard working British people’ into ever smaller areas and living spaces. Evidence of this provided by the Housing White Paper, with its proposal to review the guidance on minimum sizes for new homes, despite the “nationally described space standard” only being in force since October 2015.

The Government proposes to amend the National Planning Policy Framework to make it clear that plans and individual development proposals should:

  • make efficient use of land and avoid building homes at low densities where there is a shortage of land for meeting identified housing requirements;
  • address the particular scope for higher-density housing in urban locations”

We also want to make sure the standards do not rule out new approaches to meeting demand, building on the high quality compact living model of developers such as Pocket Homes

Micro HomesThe pocket homes the government deem ‘high quality’ are little more than 38sqm – just one square metre larger than the government’s own minimum space standard for one person living in a one-bedroom flat. If two people live there, the minimum space is 50sq m so these new “homes” don’t meet the standard. But many micro homes are under half this size with floor areas often as little as 15sq m.

These ‘pick-pocket’ micro homes, potential slums of tomorrow, are allowed under ‘permitted development rights’ when in 2013, the government allowed office blocks to be converted for new homes without the need to go through the full planning process. As a result homes built in converted office blocks do not have to meet minimum floor areas or requirements for affordable housing.

These office block conversions could also be death traps in the event of a fire. The Building Regulations in England do not require sprinkler systems in residential buildings. Not even in multi-occupation timber-framed apartment blocks. It is inconceivable that these ex-office buildings would have floors capable of structurally supporting fire-resistant masonry partitions which are far more capable of preventing the spread of fire throughout a floor.

Micro homes in Barnet HouseOfficial government housing supply figures for 2015/2016, released in November 2016, show 189,650 net additions to housing supply, with 30,600 coming from change of use from non-domestic to residential, 12,824 of those from conversions of former office blocks. No wonder the government is happy to back micro homes, it helps the figures look better! Nearly three-quarters of the stated growth in housing supply has come from these urban office block conversions. The HBF is also happy to include these in its propaganda “promoting awareness of increases in output and rebut negative claims on build quality”

So now in addition to buying poor quality, buyers have to be aware of buying teeny-weeny  new micro homes, “inspired by yacht design”, often as small as bedroom in a ‘normal’ new house – 4.2m x 3.87m (16sq m) and almost as small as the size of a single garage.

Where are these micro homes being “built”?

A development in Archway of eight flats in Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North constituency, where two of the apartments were just 13.5sq m, was thankfully refused by the council but only because of “issues relating to previous use.”

Barnet – micro homes, smaller than a Travelodge room”

Micro homes in Barnet HouseMeadow Residential plans to convert an 11-storey concrete block in Barnet into 254 “flats”. The main issue being, 96% of these will be below the 37sq m minimum space standard for a single person. Some of the “apartments” have floor areas of only 16sq m – 40% less than a 28sq m Travelodge room!
Conservative led Barnet council told The Times it could not prevent the scheme going ahead due to permitted development legislation, despite being of the opinion the “flats are not what we think are appropriate living spaces for our residents”. In this area similar sized studio flats sell for up to £180,000 and cost £800 per month to rent.
Barnet House floor plan

Heathrow and London

High house prices in London and south-east England are facilitating the conversion of more office blocks. A former American Airlines office block near Heathrow has been converted to provide 288 “flats”. An application was also lodged for converting Lewisham House in south east London into 230 new “homes.” The Independent reported on Pocket homes in Southall, Ealing that recently sold for £165,000. The latest development, in Brixton, has one-bedroom apartments from £248,500 and ‘boasts’ communal gardens and cycle storage!

Croydon – the UK hotspot for micro homes

It would appear that Croydon, is fast becoming a UK micro homes hotspot. In housing minister Gavin Barwell’s own constituency, Guardian Money found a studio “flat” in the centre of Croydon with a floor area of less than 15sq m. Others in Croydon “tracked down” by the Guardian, included a 14.9sq m flat in George Street and a 16sq m home in Barclay Road. Inspired Asset Management has developed hundreds of micro flats, many of them in Croydon. Unsurprisingly, Inspired told the Guardian it was “delighted” the government plans to review the space standards. A spokesman confirming that a one-bed flat has a typical floor area of 30sq m – 36sq m, whilst admitting it had built even smaller flats previously. They claim there is a strong demand for such property, having built 515 micro “apartments” since 2013 – 90% of which sold before completion.

The housebuilders’ lobby group Home Builders Federation [HBF] have persistently argued against minimum space standards for private housing, with spurious claims it reduces “customer choice” – “If you make a house bigger, it’s naturally going to be more expensive, so if you take away that choice by specifying a minimum size, you are by definition ruling out a section of the market on an affordability basis.”

Gavin Barwell- current housing ministerHousing minister, Gavin Barwell, voiced a similar opinion in a speech last autumn when he suggested it might not now be possible for young people to afford to buy a full-sized home, so builders should look to build ever smaller, more affordable homes. He said:
“Now look: most people, given the choice, would like to live in a nice big home. But I think for many young people – if I was 22 today, I would rather have the chance to own that than be priced out.”

Something tells me that no member of parliament would be prepared to live in any of these micro “homes”, even for just four nights a week.

At least Pocket’s “high quality compact living model” flats of around 37sq m are over double the size of the smallest. The company has built 297 with another 700 in the pipeline. The average price is £255,000 but a one-bedroom flat in Lambeth will cost £332,000, hardly pocket-money prices, but still well below the average price £421,553, paid by first-time buyers in the capital.

In 2014, researchers from Cambridge University discovered Britain’s new homes were the smallest in Europe; with an average floor area of just 76sq m, about the size of a tube train.

Jane Duncan, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said late last year.

“We urgently need new homes, but building small homes or cutting corners when converting office buildings to flats is short-sighted and fails the people these new homes are meant to serve. The Government must take action to ensure a fairer minimum space standard is applied to all new homes across the country.”

It has long been recognised that small cramped conditions are detrimental to health and well-being. These micro homes may be perfectly suitable as temporary stop-gap accommodation for those made homeless. But surely they cannot be regarded as part of a long term solution to fix “Britain’s broken housing market.”  As a developed, first-world country, the UK government should not be promoting and rubber-stamping its approval for what is little more than the 21st century equivalent of a third-world mud hut.

Shadow housing minister, John Healey, agrees accusing the government of: “giving developers a free hand to bypass proper planning process, sidestep affordable housing requirements and build rabbit hutch homes that aren’t fit for purpose. Short-sighted new developments are no shortcut to building the homes the country needs.”

Graeme Brown, interim chief executive of Shelter, said:
“In theory, converting offices sounds like a good way of creating some of the homes we need in a time of crisis. But in reality, it’s often used by developers as a way of cashing in on people’s desperation by building unaffordable, rabbit-hutch homes. Our homes are already among the smallest in Europe, and if the government allows developers to cut corners by slashing space standards in homes even more, they will be punishing ordinary families in the process.”

For more information, see Julia Park’s excellent publication One hundred years of housing space standards. What next?  What indeed.

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Consumer Code For Home Builders Revised

New homebuyers are short-changed as the latest revision to housebuilders’ ‘non-mandatory’ Consumer Code is published.

A year ago, I wrote an article that I showed the Consumer Code for Home Builders (CCHB) is failing new homebuyers.  The all-party parliamentary group (APPG) Inquiry Into the quality of new homes concluded in its Report that: 

  • “The evidence points to an industry…..which will at times ride rough-shod over dissatisfied buyers”
  • 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”

Well it’s about to get a whole lot worse!
In September 2015, the CCHB announced a triennial review of  Code, at that time changes were expected to come into effect in 2016 – “to ensure it continues to evolve with the industry and changing consumer needs and as a result of adjudication cases.” It claims “The industry has now made great strides in producing an updated Consumer Code which is fit for purpose in today’s world”   Talk about hype!Changing consumer needs? Fit for purpose?
Consumer CodeLast week the CCHB published the 4th incarnation of their consumer code, which I believe now contains specific revisions which severely diminish the likelihood of a successful claim by new homebuyers seeking redress and justice from errant housebuilders. The changes, place additional restrictions that can best be described as obstructive, the sole purpose of which is to protect the industry from the very few homebuyers that go through the rigmarole of Code’s dispute adjudication process.

The Home Builders Federation (HBF) fingerprints are all over these revisions. The HBF latest Annual Report confirmed the “HBF sits on the Code advisory forum to ensure house builder’s interests are represented. We submitted a response to the ongoing review Consultation and are working to ensure that any changes are workable for the industry.”
Well that’s mission accomplished! 

Code approval and compliance with EU Directive

Revising the Code provided an opportunity for the Code to evolve and attempt to meet the requirements of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute’s (CTSI) Standards for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Approval by the CTSI is required to comply with EU DIRECTIVE 2013/11/EU (21 May 2013) on ADR for consumer disputes. This requires the ADR to be provided by a certified body to show it meets the principals set out in the Directive and associated regulations. ADR schemes cannot achieve certification unless they meet strict criteria for impartiality and independence.

“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 facilitates self-regulation.” 

Despite the latest revisions, the Consumer Code for Home Builders has not been approved or accredited by the CTSI. Indeed, the now defunct Office of Fair Trading (OFT) withdrew its endorsement of the scheme in 2010 before it was even launched! This was because the Code’s dispute resolution service would only deal with complainant claims below £15,000. The OFT had wanted a cap of £150,000. At the time, Rod MacEachrane, a former NHBC commercial director and chair of the CCHB management board, confirmed that the OFT was:
“no longer part of the equation. It (OFT) said we were not meeting our commitments under the market study” [OFT report in 2008]. MacEachrane told Building magazine that “a cap of £15,000 would deal with 95% of disputes and was vital to ensure it remained a low-cost dispute resolution service.”
Low cost for house builders that is!

To add to the confusion, complaints can be covered by a different and separately operated Code – the Consumer Code for New Homes  (CCNH) – which is not available to buyers with NHBC, LABC or Premier Guarantee warranties. Under the CCNH claims  “are subject to a maximum aggregate award of £50,000 inclusive of VAT and maximum awards for financial loss of 25% of the purchase price of the Home and maximum awards for emotional distress and/or claims for inconvenience of £1,000” –  far more generous than the “protection” buyers allegedly have with the CCHB!

The CCHB annual report (2015)  said:  “Consumer Code is a central part of the core criteria for the Help to Buy schemes in England Scotland and Wales.” Nevertheless many housebuilders regularly breach one or more of the Code’s 19 requirements as can be seen from the Adjudication Case Summaries which show multiple Code requirement breaches in the 57 homebuyers’ claims that succeeded in 2016. Nevertheless, the awards in these successful cases represent less than a fifth of the total amount claimed by new homebuyers. 

So what are the changes to the Consumer Code for Home Builders?

The new CCHB 4th edition April 2017  comes into effect on 1st April 2017, but there is a transitional period and for reservations made before 1 July 2017complaints will be assessed against the previous version (Version 3) of the Code.” 

Re definitions:

Consumer Code with Builder's GuidanceFirstly there are a few re definitions most notably that the “Dispute Resolution Scheme” is now referred to as the “Independent Dispute Resolution Scheme”, no doubt an attempt to give the impression of independence from industry interference and to head off the growing calls for a New Homes Ombudsman  to be appointed by government, which will make the CCHB entirely redundant. The needs of ‘vulnerable customers’ should now be considered at all times. In the absence of any definitive guidelines, we can only presume that housebuilders will have to formulate their own views of defining vulnerable customers. But I doubt naïve first-time buyers will be considered “vulnerable.” 

Scope of the Code

The Code does not apply to investors now defined as buying more than one property on the same development for investment purposes. 

Making the Code available – Code Requirement 1.2

Strikingly, for a Code that so few new homebuyers are aware of, with just 55% being given the Code on Reservation (requirement 1.2) according to responses to Q19 of the HBF survey, the requirement to display the Code and give a copy to anyone who asks for it has been removed. The Code scheme Logo must now be displayed in housebuilders’ and agents’ sales offices and in sales brochures, but the requirement for the housebuilder to inform their customers that further guidance is available and how they can get this has also been removed.

Homebuyers must still be provided with the Code (Code Scheme) with the Reservation agreement “but this can be done by electronic means” – a link to the Code website or an attachment in an e mail presumably. In addition, there is no requirement to provide the version of the Code that contains the ‘House builder guidance’ – essential for those wishing to make a claim using the CCHB Dispute Resolution Scheme. The version with ‘builder guidance’  can be found here but can hardly be considered easily accessible!

Consumer Code for Home Builders LogoI recently visited an 18-month old Barratt sales office and can confirm they were no CCHB logos anywhere to be seen. On mentioning the CCHB to the sales advisor, I was given their only hard copy, a second edition CCHB dated April 2010! However, it was confirmed that the CCHB was given to all buyers with warranty details at reservation. 

Sales and advertising – Code requirement 1.5

High pressure selling techniques are now excluded to meet CTSI requirements. Previous references to the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991 and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 have been replaced with “comply all relevant legislation” 

Pre purchase information requirement 2.1

All “event fees” such as deferred management charges and fees on re sale must be declared at the Reservation Stage. This is especially relevant to retirement homes, a sector that has been heavily criticised. It will also be relevant to other leasehold new homes especially leasehold new houses.

The requirement to be shown “the layout” has been qualified to now show a “general layout” following adjudication decisions made on historic complaints using the dispute resolution scheme, no doubt designed to reduce the likelihood of a claim succeeding. 

Health and Safety – Code Requirement 2.4

There is a clarification that access to areas under construction may be properly barred or restricted. In other words, you cannot view or inspect your new home until all works are completed. As is often the case, works are ongoing right up to and after buyers legally complete and are given their keys, this has the potential for confusion. No doubt all housebuilders will use this requirement as and when it suits them to do so.

Pre Contract Information – Code Requirement 2.5

It is illegal for a housebuilder to require any homebuyer to use a specified firm of solicitors. Nevertheless, under the Code, buyers can be induced to do so by builders offering incentives such as legal fees paid, part-exchange or stamp duty paid.

Reservation – Code requirement 2.6

Various clarifications including how long the price is valid and the likely range of monetary deductions from the reservation fee, if the sale is cancelled. Most important to note is that due to “a high number of adjudications have been found against home builders”, the guidance now suggests that “appendices and schedules be attached to the reservation agreement” evidenced by both the housebuilder and the homebuyer in recognition of them having been seen and received and to act as proof “that the home and its specification was agreed and explained at the point of reservation.”

The Contract – Code requirement 3.1

Reference to specific legislation has been removed. Namely the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999. No doubt to make it more difficult for buyers to find out how they have been wronged.

Timing of construction – Code Requirement 3.2

Due to issues surrounding “completeness” of the home at handover, guidance has been extended to suggest that the housebuilder should explain to the homebuyer that there may be “minor items outstanding.” No doubt if there is a written record, this may head off claims from buyers moving into incomplete homes. The definition of “minor items” was not clarified. Builders are guided to inform buyers that they should “give reliable and realistic information when construction of the home may finish”, but housebuilders should “make it clear that they cannot be precise.” So how can it be reliable?

Health and Safety for homebuyers- Code requirement 4.2

Reference to specific legislation, namely the Construction Design and Management Regulations 2007, has been removed. Too many pesky new homebuyers were no doubt using the legislation to report contraventions to the HSE.

Changes to the Dispute Resolution Scheme

The most shocking changes concern the so-called “Independent Dispute Resolution Scheme.”    From April 2017, a claim cannot be brought until 56 days has passed since first raising it with the housebuilder and no later than 12 months after the housebuilder’s final response. Previously homebuyers had just three months to do this. These changes bring the Code in line with the timeframes set out in the Alternative Dispute Resolution Directive.

The award for “Inconvenience” can no longer be claimed by homebuyers! Considering that in 34 of the 57 successful cases in 2016, the £250 maximum payment was all they were awarded, this is certainly a retrograde step, designed to reduce the payments housebuilders are required to make. The very inconvenience of making a claim using the CCHB is enough on its own to justify the payment. However the good news is from 1st July 2017 the maximum for inconvenience is to be doubled to £500, in line with current best practice in other IDRS. The bad news is any “awards will be made by the adjudicator at their own discretion and consideration and where a breach of the Code has been identified.” Worse, a buyer cannot receive an award for “emotional upset and stress, as awards are to be judged as a matter of fact and on the resulting financial loss caused.” Strangely 4.6 of the guidance states that “home buyers may not receive an award for inconvenience alone” but the case summaries would indicate the opposite!

Finally the onus is now on homebuyers to correctly identify which Code requirement has been breached when making an application for dispute resolution, apparently “to avoid generalised complaints which may have little or no specific relevance to the Code.”

Once the homebuyer accepts an award decision, in writing, the housebuilder must pay the award in full, within 20 working days of the adjudicator’s notification.

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Latest HBF Customer Satisfaction Survey shows new home quality is still falling

HBF Customer Satisfaction Survey Results 2017

HBF survey results 2017. After a long and unexplained delay, the Home Builders Federation (HBF), with an income of over £3million (2015), mostly funded by its member housebuilders, finally published its annual New Homes Customer Satisfaction Survey Results and house builder star ratings for 2017 late yesterday. Unlike the rest of us, housebuilders have known their scores throughout the year in real time, thanks to the NHBC online portal providing monthly updates on just how their customers are rating them.
HBF Survey 2017So why the delay HBF?  What possible reason could there have been for requiring a total of 12 weeks, two more than in 2016, since the last customer responses for the HBF survey year to 30 September 2016, were received on the 14 January 2017 cut off?  By strange coincidence, it was the same day that Article 50 was triggered, making it unlikely the poor survey results would get any media attention with all the Article 50 coverage.
Did the HBF decide it was a good day to bury their bad news?

Perhaps calculations were being done to effect an overall more favourable impression of customer satisfaction with new homes. Perhaps there were discussions about including late, more favourable surveys and ruling out unfavourable responses on the grounds of invalidity?  Perhaps the PR spin was more difficult to write this year? Who knows?  Certainly not me.  Even though the HBF Chief Executive Stewart Baseley stated on national radio just last month that he is “a great believer in transparency”, the HBF survey remains a mystery to all but those involved in its carefully scripted questions and the statistical “methodology set out by the NHBC themselves” used in the analysis and validation of the survey by the University of Reading’s Statistical Service Centre.

The HBF survey is used by the industry to  give the impression of high quality new homes when the opposite commonly the case. The HBF’s main aim is to use the survey for “promoting awareness of increases in quality and rebut negative claims on build quality.”  The HBF do not publish more detailed company results as they tell me it “would most certainly have provided food for those who are prejudiced against the industry and simply seek to criticise.” So much for transparency Mr Baseley! The HBF confirm they have “launched a review of the scheme” with the NHBC for no other reason than “to ensure the survey is seen to be as robust as possible.”

In their press release, the HBF say:Ipsos MORI has recently undertaken a full independent review of the Customer Satisfaction Survey and its processes. The report concludes that the survey approach and processes are consistent with best practice, that it is ‘fit for purpose’ and is a robust measure of customer satisfaction in the new homes industry. The industry will now be reviewing the recommendations made.” Hardly unsurprising given that Ipsos MORI has “acted as a consultant” as far back as 2006! Is this a cynical attempt to head off any likelihood of a truly fully-independent new home customer survey being required as recommended in the APPG Inquiry Report?

The Report from the APPG Inquiry Into the Quality of new homes Recommendation 10: stated:

Housebuilders should make the annual customer satisfaction survey more independent to boost customer confidence.
“We believe it would boost consumer confidence if the Customer Satisfaction Survey is seen to be more independent of the NHBC and the HBF – bringing in a high profile third party to conduct and take ownership of the research in their name. Furthermore we would like to see more in depth research on consumer trends based on the follow up survey carried out by the NHBC in their nine-month survey. We feel this could provide a real insight into how builders are tackling initial defects and complaints.”

At the APPG Inquiry, the NHBC confirmed that the results of their 9-month customer satisfaction survey were typically 5 to 10% lower than the 8-week survey. No wonder these results are never made public! So much again for transparency Mr Baseley!

HBF New Home Customer Satisfaction Survey results 2017
HBF Survey 2017So here it is at last, Britain’s only new home customer satisfaction survey, conducted by the industry for the industry. The sole purpose of the HBF survey being to “rebut negative claims on build quality”. But the facts speak for themselves, even in a survey conducted by the industry and quite probably manipulated by housebuilders.

HBF Survey 2017 results show satisfaction is down

During the survey year to 30 September 2016, the NHBC registered as complete around 140,000 new homes, of which about 80% (112,000) being privately sold and potentially eligible to be part of the HBF customer satisfaction survey. As in previous years, only new homes with an NHBC warranty (around 80% of new homes) will almost definitely (81%) receive a survey, provided that these homes are not rented by buy-to-let private landlords. Out of an approximate potential 112,000 privately sold new homes, the NHBC sent out 90,501 surveys on behalf of the HBF with 52,290 returned, a response rate of 57.7%.

The HBF Survey Star Rating “sample” size totals 39,014 out of the total 52,290 surveys returned! This indicates that 13,276 (25.4%) of the surveys returned were not used for housebuilder star rating!  I asked the HBF why?

The HBF told me: “Whilst the ‘industry survey’ covers more than HBF members, the Star Rating part of it is just for HBF members. Hence adding up the sample sizes for the Star Rated builders will not get you to the total 52,290 responses.HBF survey sample sizesHBF Survey – What it tells us:

The overall ‘satisfaction’ score is 84%, down again for the 4th year running and at its lowest level for nine years!

A record number of new home buyers, 98% (up from 93% last year) that returned the HBF survey, reported problems to the housebuilder (within the first 8-12 weeks) with over four in ten (41%) reporting more than 10 problems – a 3% rise on last year.

Bovis get a HBF Survey 2 star ratingBovis Homes, Britain’s 6th largest house builder by volume, have seen their HBF customer star rating plummet over the last four years, from a 5 star rating in 2013 to just 2 stars today. Considering the company is to spend £7million to repair poorly-built new homes sold to customers over the last two years, it is surprisingly to say the least, that their HBF star rating implies over 60% of the Bovis’ buyers that returned the HBF survey, would still apparently “recommend Bovis to a friend.”
Can the HBF Star rating be believed?It is questionable how much influence housebuilders are exerting on recently moved in buyers to complete the HBF survey to show them in a more favourable light, despite a great many having incomplete homes, serious defects and overall poor quality homes. From free patio slabs, to £250 John Lewis vouchers and offers to “help” complete the HBF survey – it’s all being done to manipulate a better star rating, against HBF rules but with HBF knowledge.

Yet still the HBF PR machine spins false information:

It's always better to tell the truth!“The overwhelming majority of new home buyers are happy with their new home” say the HBF “Housebuilders remain committed to delivering the high quality product, and responding appropriately when issues arise” So why do they repeatedly fail to do either so often? Both Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon said they were addressing it over 12 months ago, yet their satisfaction scores are lower.

“Since the survey was launched more than a decade ago scores in all question areas have improved significantly” Not true the number of buyers reporting problems was 93% then, it’s 98% now! In addition the 2006 HBF survey was from a very low base with 57% of builders rated 3 stars or less and a sample size of just 15,000 surveys returned.

“The past 3 years have seen a slight fall back in scores, something the industry is actively addressing.”  I think you’ll find that was the last four years! Whatever the industry is allegedly doing, it isn’t having any positive or apparent measurable success.

Even Secretary of State Sajid Javid said earlier this week: “It’s fair to say that new builds don’t always have the best reputation for quality…..this isn’t a new issue” So why isnt the government doing anything about it? Even the industry’s own Customer Satisfaction HBF Survey latest results show it’s bad, it’s getting worse and still nothing is being done about it!

In another attempt to paint a more rosier picture of this broken industry, we have the New Home Review (NHR) which says it “provides a unique, independent insight into the quality of new homes being built for sale and the level of customer satisfaction, based on feedback directly from new home owners..”

The survey is supposed to be anonymous but buyers need to add their housebuilder, address and postcode. The website is owned by MD Insurance who run both LABC warranty and Premier Guarantee! They also administer the Consumer Code for Home Builders. This survey cannot be regarded as independent!

The survey published thus far, is I believe, little more than an opportunity for self-justification of yet another industry survey and with just 1,000 surveyed, these results can be regarded as pretty meaningless.

In time, dependent on the average customer satisfaction score, the following ratings are awarded:

Customer satisfaction score:
  • Diamond: 81% and above (HBF equivalent – 4 & 5 Star)
  • Platinum: 71% to 80%       (HBF – 3 Star)
  • Gold: 61% to 70%               (HBF – 2 Star)
  • Silver: 51% to 60%
  • Bronze: 41% to 50%

So under the “New Home Review” even a dodgy two star house builder will be able to display a “Gold” customer satisfaction rating logo, confusing and deceiving consumers.

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Reward for failure as ex Bovis CEO David Ritchie stands to receive nearly £2m pay off

Ex Bovis CEO David RitchieRegardless of what fictional character Gordon Gecko once said, “Greed for want of a better word is” most definitely not good!  As details emerged earlier this week of David Ritchie’s pay-off. The former chief executive of Bovis Homes resigned” on 9th January 2017 after a profit warning and ahead of the scandal of buyers being paid up to £3,000 to legally compete on homes that were not finished, and the announcement by Bovis that they had set aside £7 million in February to redress complaints.

A Section 430(2b) statement by Bovis homes, confirmed Ritchie is to be handed a total of £635,430 in salary and bonus and a further £909,250 in shares under the long-term-incentive-plan. He also stands to receive a further tranche of 40,556 shares currently worth £357,805 up to 24 February 2018. A total possible payout of £1,902,485!

He will be paid a lump sum of £242,180 and will receive a total of £338,250 from July until December salary in lieu of notice. His contractual notice period runs until 8 January 2018.

Laughably, Ritchie who formally left Bovis on 28 February, will even receive a £55,000 bonus next month as part of last year’s scheme which “may be subject to clawback for a period of two years”. Ritchie will also have continued use of his company car as well as medical insurance and life cover until 8 January 2018. Unbelievably, if this wasn’t already extremely generous for an individual that presided over a performance that has brought his company to the brink of being taken over by a rival, Bovis are even paying “a contribution in respect of legal costs and a further contribution towards outplacement counselling.”
(which apparently helps displaced employees manage the transition from one job to another!) Not that Ritchie needs to find paid employment anytime soon!

Bovis FlagRitchie, who became Bovis Group chief executive in July 2008, is also in line to reap around £462,850 (52,463 shares) based on Bovis’ current share price (882p) from a long-term incentive plan that vested on 25 February 2016.

Ritchie will also benefit from 50,598 shares worth another £446,400 that became exercisable last month, subject to performance conditions being met. He is also be in line for a further 27,256 shares (£240,466) on 19 August 2017 and a maximum of 13,300 shares worth £117,339 from 24 February 2018, again if certain performance conditions are met.

The details of Ritchie’s payoff being disclosed on Bovis’ corporate website.

It is to be hoped that investors who will be given a vote on Bovis’ remuneration report at its annual meeting in May will voice their displeasure at the payoff although the LTIP was approved by shareholders in 2014.

Critics have accused Bovis of paying a ‘reward for failure’.

Oliver Parry, head of corporate governance policy at bosses’ business group the Institute of Directors, told the Daily Mail:
“This doesn’t look good and it doesn’t do the reputation of British business any good.” He said: “Investors deserve to understand what senior executives are being paid at the point of stepping down.”   A spokesman for Bovis told the Daily Mail that the company had made a “prompt and full disclosure.”

Stefan Stern, director of the High Pay Centre, told the Daily Mail:
“This is a reward for failure. This sort of pay-off reflects the way in which executive pay is trapped in a world of its own. No one else would expect to receive this sort of payment after having underperformed in a job.”

The row over Ritchie’s pay adds to the mounting backlash over excess in the boardroom. Given the circumstances and the amount involved it is to be hoped that Ritchie (47) will do the decent thing and make sizable donations to homeless charities such as Shelter and perhaps donate his time providing accountancy services ‘pro-bono’ for charities.

Meanwhile yesterday, 58% of shareholders of house builder Crest Nicholson voted against the company’s remuneration report at the annual general meeting, revolting over executive pay as the company slashed profit targets that determine performance-based bonuses for its directors.

Shareholders were vented their anger at a pay policy that will enable chief executive Stephen Stone to more easily receive a £811,737 bonus on top of a basic salary of £541,158. A total of £1.35m which  would take a site manager 27 years to earn.  Crest’s chief operating officer Patrick Bergin could be on track to trouser an extra £562,500, adding to his £375,000 salary.

The company’s remuneration report outlined plans to cut the target for pre-tax profit growth for the second year running, down from 16%-20% a year earlier to 5%-8% for the 2017-2019 period, citing challenging trading conditions. It was set at 18%-22% in 2015.

While the vote against the pay proposals was not binding, it indicates growing discontent at executive pay and dissatisfaction among investors.

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Petitions to Government – Are they a waste of time?

The parliamentary petitions system has come under criticism lately when it was revealed that fewer than ten of the thousands of petition appeals launched by the public had led to a change of policy.Petitions debateAs at 3 March 2017, more than 28,400 applications were submitted to the Commons petitions committee in the past 19 months.

The Petitions Committee review all petitions published. The website says they “select petitions of interest to find out more about the issues raised” and “have the power to press for action from government or Parliament.”

At 10,000 signatures requires a response from the government. At 100,000 signatures means the petition will be considered for a debate in Parliament.

Attaining the required number of signatures required for an official response is all but impossible without media coverage and support. Petition for New Homes OmbudsmanMy own petition  calling for a New Homes Ombudsman and other measures that would protect new homebuyers and drive up the quality of new homes has managed a disappointing 793 signatures with just 19 days remaining.  Previous petitions for a New Homes Ombudsman also failed. This change.org petition got just 159 And this you.38 degrees  just 5! This petition for a New Homes Ombudsman  was rejected because it was “unclear.”

So what petitions were important to the British public?

A petition to  “Make the production sale and use of cannabis legal”  had 236,995 signatures, making it the ninth highest of all time. But a petition calling for the “legalisation of Medicinal Cannabis” attracted only 23,414 people signing. Surprisingly a petition calling for “more funding into brain tumours the biggest cancer killer of under 40s” was at number 44 with 120.129 signatures.

Other more popular petitions include “Remove the need to display a front number plate” with 31,122 signatures despite the fact it would bring no benefit. There were two separate petitions calling for a “Ban on driven grouse shooting” with 123,077 and 33,655 signatures. And there is still ten days left to join the 12,769 who have signed a petition “For the Robin to become our official National Bird!

Of the total (mostly pointless) 28,427 petitions, 18,581 were rejected. Under the rules, any that are defamatory, unclear in their aims, party political, about a personal issue, or about honours or appointments can be thrown out. Currently there are 2,772 petitions open and 7,074 that are now closed as petitions are only permitted to stand on the parliamentary website for six months.

Of the petitions permitted to stand on the parliamentary website for six months, 9,846 (35%)  fewer than 433 (4.4%) were backed by more than 10,000 signatures, the barrier for receiving a government response. Of these, just 72 (0.73%) gained 100,000 signatures and yet only 58 were debated in parliament. Only seven resulted in, or coincided with, government action to address the demands made by the petitioner.

Those who favour the system, claim petitions encourage political engagement from voters saying that even if a petition does not lead to a change in the law, it raises awareness among legislators.

Andrew Bridgen, Tory MP for North West Leicestershire told The Times: “If any petition reaches 100,000 signatories, then we should debate it. If just one petition leads to meaningful change, that’s significant.”

Helen Jones, the Labour MP and chairwoman of the petitions committee, also defended the system. “The advice I always give to people is that you have to consider a petition as part of your campaign, and not the end of your campaign”

After over three years campaigning for the government to appoint a New Homes Ombudsman, you are certainly not wrong Helen!

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No Problem With New Home Quality Says HBF Stewart Baseley

Stewart Baseley, Executive Chairman of HBF interview on BBC Radio 4 Today – Saturday 11 February

Stewart Baseley HBFTrue to form the Home Builder’s Federation [HBF] the industry’s PR and lobby group, conducts a perfect whitewash on the facts as their executive chairman Stewart Baseley trots out a well-used, well-rehearsed HBF rhetoric. The two main points the industry is keen to focus on at the moment:
“promoting awareness of increases in output and rebut negative claims on build quality” are well covered. Mission accomplished! Move along there is nothing to see. Money well-spent? The HBF was funded mostly by its house builder members to the tune of £3,037,449 in the year to 31 December 2015.

Questions to Stewart Baseley, Executive Chairman of HBF
Do you accept there is a problem?
“No I don’t accept there is a problem although clearly there are in some cases that you have highlighted some of those on your report and I totally accept that anybody that’s in a situation where they have got a problem, it’s very serious for them.”

“No problem – some cases”
Fact: As Stewart Baseley knows, the NHBC paid out £90million in warranty claims for remedial works to fix serious defects in 11,000 new homes (an average of £8,181 each) in the 12 months to 31 March 2016. That equates nearly 9% of the 124,720 new homes built in the same period. In the previous year, the NHBC spent £86million on remedial works including £23million on foundations and £32million on superstructures to 11,000 new homes.

But the main housebuilders, satisfaction ratings have gone down
“They have gone down, well as an industry of course you have to put that into context the fact that first of all we went through the most tremendous recession seven or eight years ago and we lost getting on for half our workforce. As Oliver Colvile quite rightly says, capacity is a challenge and we have increased output over the last three years, by in excess of 50% and we are taking on and training tens of thousands of people to do that; in that context, we actually conduct what I believe is the biggest opinion poll audience research that is undertaken in the UK every year, I am not aware of anything bigger. We sent out 85,000 questionnaires in the last survey year to customers of new homes of all the builders that have been mentioned, we get about a 56% response rate we have about 45,000 returns, which is pretty impressive in terms of the sample size compared to most surveys, and around 85% of the customers of all those homes would recommend their builder to a friend. Clearly there are 15% who wouldn’t and there are a variety of reasons for that and I don’t want to suggest in any way that those reasons are not important and vital to the people that have got those challenges.”

“We have increased output by 50% in the last three years.”
Fact: In the year to 30 Sept 2013, 108,270 new homes were completed. The latest official government figures to 30 September 2016 show 141,690 new homes completed a rise of 31%! Furthermore the number of new homes being built is still 23% lower than the peak in the year to 30 March 2007. Surely Stewart Baseley is aware of the official statistics?

New Home Customer Satisfaction Survey
Yes satisfaction scores, in even this industry’s own manipulated survey (with some buyers being given £250 John Lewis vouchers for favourable responses!) have indeed gone down to 85%. It was good that Stewart Baseley acknowledged this. But of a total of 135,860 homes built in the last HBF survey year, 80,582 surveys were sent out by the NHBC and just 56%, 45,342 were returned representing just 54% of the homes sold privately.  Furthermore, not all survey responses are ‘validated’. Surveys returned late (not within 7 weeks of the date of the letter) are not counted as are those that are “not filled in correctly.” I would suggest if the responses of these surveys were favourable to the industry, they are used in the results!

The HBF state in their Annual Report:
“The Customer Satisfaction Survey and star rating scheme has played a key part in measuring industry performance and providing data to rebut negativity. To ensure the survey is seen to be as robust as possible, HBF and NHBC will be launching a review of the scheme.”
In other words, people like me can see through the hype and are (along with the APPG Inquiry) calling for a survey that is completely independent of the industry.

Well Stewart Baseley has certainly used the “data” to try and “rebut negativity”. By way of comparison, the John Lewis’ customer satisfaction survey score in 2016 was 84.9% and Amazon were top with 86.6%, both are streets ahead of anything the housebuilding industry does!

It is true the industry “lost” a large proportion of the workforce, not forgetting this was something companies within the industry chose to do at the time!

The level of dissatisfaction of those buying new homes is at its highest level since 2009 according to your national new homes survey, are you saying that survey is wrong?
“No I am saying that’s our survey, we are talking about a drop from 90% to 85% all companies and I know the CEOs and I know the managing directors of all the companies that were mentioned in the report, plus many other companies across the country and I am absolutely convinced of one thing and that is they all get up in the morning and go to work and all their people go to work with the intention of delivering a good product to a high service across the country.“ 

”they all get up in the morning and go to work with the intention of delivering a good product to a high service across the country”
Fact:  You only have to look at Taylor Wimpey’s Loddon Park development recent press coverage especially concerning Bovis, to know this just cannot be true, otherwise surely action would have been taken long ago to address the issues. 

“Now clearly things go wrong on building sites, we are working in all weathers with all sorts of raw materials that have to be imported and clearly there are challenges and I think most customers accept that actually is not necessarily possible to always produce a perfect house. The key thing is to make sure we deliver their house on time and where they do have issues and when they do have problems making sure we address.”

“not necessarily possible to always produce a perfect house”
Fact: The housebuilding industry that Stewart Baseley is attempting to defend, cannot even produce a home that is 100% finished by the date builders say it will be. There can be no excuses for handing over a defective, poor quality and often unfinished new home. Whilst it is true a new home is exposed to ‘all weathers’, but so are new hospitals, schools office blocks etc all built to much higher standards handed over 100% compete, on time, with very few (if any) defects. It is not impossible to build a perfect new home. All that is required is care, desire and sufficient time. The industry has lowered expectations, so buyers expect to have defects and faults. You do not expect to have faults in a new car. You don’t drive it for a week and then take it back to the dealer with a list of things that need sorting out!

But that doesn’t always happen people have to go through complaints procedures etc
“Well I accept that and Oliver Colvile talks about an ombudsman and we already have procedures in place. If you have a warranty like the NHBC or Premier or LABC there is a disputes resolution service, we set up a Consumer Code for Home Builder back in 2010 that also has a disputes resolution service for areas that are not covered by the warranty provider, and I’m a great believer in transparency and I’m a great believer in people having access to services that are cheap for them to use to get quick remedies to their problems.”

“We already have procedures in place”
Fact: Dispute resolution by warranty providers, that are funded by housebuilders, to adjudicate on disputes with those very housebuilders about their reluctance to fullfil their obligations under the warranty policy!

“The NHBC Dispute Resolution Service can help with help to settle disputes over defects which relate to the NHBC standards. The NHBC standards require builders to fulfil all of their obligations under the Buildmark policy.”
The fact is house builders don’t and the NHBC has to mediate in disputes, which they find in favour of homebuyers in around 70% of disputes.

The Warranty dispute resolution cannot help with non-warranty matters, such as disputes over boundaries, planning, contractual or financial matters or if arbitration or legal proceedings against the builder have started.

“we set up a Consumer Code for Home Builder back in 2010 that also has a disputes resolution service for areas that are not covered by the warranty provider”
Fact: Unsurprisingly the HBF “sits on the Code advisory forum to ensure house builder’s interests are represented….to ensure that any changes are workable for the industry”  

The new revised Consumer Code for Home Builders comes into effect 1 April 2017. I believe the revisions to the Code are further to the detriment of the homebuyer. They have been made following decisions in cases of claims made by new homebuyers. These include the abolition of the ability to claim £250 for inconvenience, the removal of the requirement to give a copy of the Code to anyone that asks and non-provision the “home builder guidance” – so much for transparency Mr Baseley! Furthermore, in the case summaries since the Code was introduced in April 2010, there have been a total of 193 cases to June 2016. Out of these, 56% that succeeded or succeeded ‘in part’ resulted in total awards of just £221,869, just 19% of the total claimed £1,150,755.

Stewart Baseley says: “I’m a great believer in transparency”
Fact: The Customer Satisfaction Survey and builder star rating for example has no access to NHBC survey portal so buyers can see survey responses and builder scores in real time, [as house builders can] just the industry adjusted results in March. The HBF should publish all builder scores not just the Q1 star rating score. Why do they not publish the NHBC 6-month survey results? The NHBC could publish details on how many claims for each builder and how many disputes for each builder go through the resolution process.

The NHBC should publish details on the number of warranty claims for each builder and how many disputes for each builder go through their resolution process. The Consumer Code for Home Builders should not be confidential. The CCHB should publish the names of housebuilders in case summaries along with what sanctions (if any!) have been made to the housebuilder. 

Fact: The LABC and Premier Guarantee warranties are administered by MD Insurance Services. The Dispute Resolution Service Team is supported by Claim Investigation Surveyors; Premier Guarantee Surveyors is the trading name of MD Warranty Support Services Limited. The NHBC has entered into a joint venture with MD Insurance Services Limited under the name of the Consumer Code for Home Builders Limited (CCHB). The CCHB operates a code providing protection and rights to purchasers of new homes. Ian Davis, Executive Director of NHBC, is a Director of the CCHB. The NHBC paid the Code £235,000 in 2016 and £175,000 in 2015.

The use of ‘Gagging Orders’ isn’t transparency!
Fact: The NHBC and housebuilders use of ‘Non Disclosure Agreements’ also known as “gagging orders” is hardly “transparent” and used for no other reason but to conceal the extent of defects in homes built by housebuilders and the amount of compensation paid. The NHBC also use them when settling warranty claims, especially when further claims might result on particular developments such as weak mix mortar.

“We do not want to increase quantity at the expense of quality”
In order to do this, new homes would need to be being built to a certain higher quality to begin with. Does Stewart Baseley really mean that “we [his house builder members] must be careful not to build homes with even more defects as they slash them up to increase the quantity the government is asking us for?”

It’s time that Stewart Baseley, the industry (NHBC, HBF, house builders) and government came clean, admitted that there is a problem with both the poor quality of new homes being built and the poor service customers receive from indifferent house builders and implement the ten recommendations of the APPG Inquiry Report starting with setting up an independent, government-appointed, New Homes Ombudsman. Anything less is unacceptable.

I am grateful to Mary Glindon MP for asking housing minister Gavin Barwell the question on Monday 27 February 2017:
The current system is clearly inadequate
A Bovis buyer said:

“we took the decision to take Bovis to court last year – but our contract doesn’tt allow it unless NHBC resolution process has been activated and failed – it has been 7 months since we got NHBC involved and they have played us as much as Bovis – the result is always the same nothing happens.”

We are currently waiting for NHBC to start the agreed work – we had to complain to the financial services ombudsman who upheld our complaint to get some action from NHBC, but it is over 18 months since we complained to NHBC and work has still not started. Once the work has completed we will then pursue Bovis for breach of contract and compensation. We have legal expenses cover on our home insurance so can use that if needed”

A Wainhomes buyer told me:

“it is stunning how little comeback you have, the whole system is massively skewed in the developers favour and they know that and completely abuse it. NHBC is just a method by which they give some apparent credibility and peace of mind to their victims, it’s virtually worthless and also crucially means they don’t need to answer to local authority Building Control. It’s akin to fraud/organised crime, yet you have less protection than when you buy a loaf of bread.”

BBC Radio 4 Today said they asked the big companies if they wanted to take part in the programme – none of them did. But Bovis wanted to apologise and said:
“in some recent cases we haven’t met our customers’ expectations for which we apologise”

Taylor Wimpey PR statement:

“We sincerely regret that some of their customers have experienced issues with their homes at London Park and they apologised for the disruption this has caused. They say they are working with those affected customers and said they would like to re assure them that they are fully focused on completing their programme of remedial works as soon as possible.”

“We are sorry  ….    we are working with those…” blah blah blah!  In one case they have been “fully-focused” on one particular house at Loddon Park for over two and a half years!  Stewart Baseley and his builder members have their work cut out! The poor build quality of new homes cannot be dismissed like this.

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Fitting carbon monoxide alarms in new homes should be mandatory

Carbon Monoxide Alarms

The fitting of carbon monoxide alarms in new homes should be a mandatory requirement of the Building Regulations in England and Wales.  It may come as a surprise to learn that every year over 4,000 people are admitted to hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning that could lead to brain damage and strokes – with 40 fatalities recorded in England and Wales. One in nine British homes have boilers classified as unsafe.

The new home defect that kills

You can’t see it, you can’t smell it. Carbon Monoxide – the new home defect that kills!

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the equivalent to the building regulations, requires a BS EN 50291 kite-marked carbon monoxide alarm to be fitted when any new or replacement fuel appliance is installed (except cookers). This covers any fuel burning appliance, including those that burn gas, oil, coal and wood. The alarms must be fitted in any room with the appliance or if it is an enclosed boiler, just outside the enclosure and any room that has a flue running through it. Alarms can be mains or battery powered but if the alarm is battery powered then the battery should last for the life of the alarm.

No requirement in England and Wales:
But the Building Regulations for England and Wales, Approved Document J, only require carbon monoxide alarms to be fitted when any new or replacement solid-fuel appliance is installed. Examples of solid fuel burning appliances being wood burners, open fires etc. There is also additional legislation requiring a carbon monoxide alarms to be fitted in all rented residential accommodation with gas appliances, but not in owner-occupied homes.

Around 84% of UK homes now have smoke detectors but only around 15% have carbon monoxide alarms, putting countless families in danger. Fitting carbon monoxide alarms could save many lives. But currently there are no regulations that require the fitting of carbon monoxide alarms in new homes with gas boilers installed.

Following on from my article Is your new home killing you? about instances of carbon monoxide poisoning in newly built homes leaking from gas boilers, I asked the NHBC – given the industry’s chequered history of carbon monoxide leaking from gas boilers/boiler flues installed in the homes under its warranty – if it thought that a carbon monoxide alarm should be fitted in every new home with a gas appliance? If so, why hasn’t the NHBC included this as a requirement in the latest 2017 Warranty Standards?  I was quite shocked by the reply:

“Thank you for your email to our Chairman; she has asked me to respond. As you may be aware, issues of health and safety are dealt with through statutory Building Regulations, which are set by government. Approved Document J ‘Combustion appliances and fuel storage systems’ does ask for a carbon dioxide alarm to be provided where a solid fuel appliance is located but there is currently no similar requirement in the case of gas appliances.

I would therefore suggest that you may wish address your enquiry to government department responsible for Building Regulations – the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The Head of Technical Policy at the Building Regulation and Standards Division is Richard Harral and his email address is: richard.harral@communities.gsi.gov.uk.”

So I duly contacted Mr Harral at the DCLG on 1st February and received his reply, 12 days later, confirming that he had “passed this on to the policy lead who oversees Building Regulations requirements for Carbon Monoxide alarms. He will provide a response in due course.” Mr Harral also pointed out that “responsibility for Building Regulations in Wales is now the responsibility of the Welsh Government.”

I had previously e mailed communities secretary Sajid Javid and housing minister Gavin Barwell regarding ongoing instances of dangerous gas boilers in new homes. This was the response from the DCLG:

“Thank you for your email of 17 January 2017 to Sajid Javid and Gavin Barwell, raising concerns about the quality of new homes. I have been asked to reply on their behalf.

In relation to the concerns you have raised about dangerous boilers. All heat producing gas appliances and their flues must be installed by installers registered with Gas Safe Register, a statutory registration scheme under the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998. The enforcing authority for these regulations is the Health and Safety Executive and complaints about installations that are considered unsafe should be made to it.

There is a requirement that the installation of gas appliances be self-certified as compliant. However, these certificates are evidence, but not conclusive evidence, of compliance. This means that building control bodies could take formal enforcement action where work was found not to comply despite a self-certificate having been given. It also means that the building owner would be able to make a claim in the civil courts.”

So basically no requirement is considered necessary by the standards setting authorities or the government. Furthermore, formal enforcement action is not required and would not be taken by anyone, until it became known a boiler was leaking carbon monoxide, by which time it could be fatal and too late. Quiet how the “building owner would be able to make a claim in the civil courts”  I don’t know, they could be dead!

Although not a new-build home, 31 year-old Katie Haines was killed by carbon monoxide in her cottage shortly after returning from her honeymoon in February 2010. The Katie Haines Memorial Trust, set up a petition to lobby the Government to make CO alarms compulsory across the UK, in a similar way to smoke alarms.  It closed on 30 March 2015 and attracted 5,321 signatures, not enough to trigger the government into action.

Her mother said at the time:
“Two young men died in Northern Ireland the same year as Katie and legislation both on council and government level has been pushed through quickly. We feel that we should have the same duty of care in England and Wales.”

Carbon Monoxide AlarmsBut seven years later, there is still no legislation in England and Wales for mandatory fitting of carbon monoxide alarms in new homes where gas appliances are installed, yet there is in Northern Ireland and Scotland!

Despite the lack of any mandatory regulations requiring carbon monoxide alarms to be fitted in all new homes with gas boilers, the three largest housebuilders have all confirmed to me that they now fit carbon monoxide alarms “as standard” in every new home with a gas appliance.

Persimmon homes said:
“It has been Persimmon Homes’ group policy since September 2012 to fit a carbon monoxide detector/alarm to all properties with a gas fired appliance of any type. Current models include the CO-9BT or similar approved models.”Carbon Monoxide AlarmsTaylor Wimpey said

“Thank you for your email, the contents of which are noted and which relates to a matter which we take very seriously.

We are aware of the tragedy that you refer to in your email, which took place at the Barratt Bedfont Lakes development in 2008.

Following a detailed review that we undertook in and around 2011, since 2012 (when we also commenced the phasing out the use of extended gas flues) we have required all of our business units to fit CO monitors in all homes with gas appliances. Our policy is to fit CO monitors in all rooms where a gas appliance is fitted – in some homes, this could involve the fitting of multiple monitors including in rooms with a gas boiler, gas hob or gas fire/s. There is further instruction issued on how that is done, and the positions of the monitors is shown on the house type drawings and customer drawings which the sales executive will run through with our customers.

Please find attached an information leaflet on the Honeywell XC100, which is the monitor that we currently fit. In 2012, we also undertook an exercise of raising the profile of the risks of CO to both customers and homeowners and this included making available free CO monitors retrospectively.”

Barratt confirmed bluntly:
“Yes, we fit CO detectors to all houses and apartments which have a gas boiler.”

But do they? I asked new home buyers in the Unhappy New Home Buyers Facebook Group if they had Carbon Monoxide alarms fitted in homes built by these builders:

Two Barratt new homebuyers responded, one said they had, the other said : “when we moved in in June 2011, we didn’t have one even though it was listed on the specification. It took the Customer Services Manager multiple attempts to deliver one….. we now have a couple of spare central heating control units which he delivered by mistake…”

The few Taylor Wimpey buyers who did respond, all confirmed they had a CO alarms fitted.

Carbon Monoxide The Persimmon homebuyers that responded, overwhelmingly that demonstrated that many Persimmon homes would appear not to have CO alarms fitted, despite the company confirming it was “group policy since September 2012 to fit a carbon monoxide detector/alarm to all properties with a gas fired appliance of any type.”

All twelve Persimmon buyers who responded, confirmed they didn’t have a carbon monoxide alarm fitted: six bought in 2015, two in 2014, two in 2013 and one in 2012. Another buyer said his whole street haven’t a CO alarm fitted!

When I notified Persimmon of this they said:
If you can supply me with the names, addresses and phone numbers of each of the people I’ll gladly get in touch with them.”

It should also be noted that these are battery sealed-for-life CO alarms and need to be replaced every 7 to 10 years.

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