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Housebuilding industry attempts to derail the setting up of an independent new homes ombudsman.

As the Consumer Code for Homes Builders (CCHB) fights against its own imminent extinction, an ever growing recognition that a fully independent New Homes Ombudsman is gaining traction and support in government circles. The CCHB starts to “bend and amend” in an vain attempt to head off fully independent consumer redress, which would make the CCHB redundant and take control of buyers’ complaints away from those paid by the industry, to safeguard housebuilders’ vested interests.

The APPG Inquiry in 2015 and the subsequent report published as long ago as July 2016, stated as its number 1 “key recommendation” that a New Homes Ombudsman be set up by government. Indeed it went further saying that the Consumer Code for Home Builders “was limited in its scope” and “did not give a satisfactory form of redress.” The CCHB does not, as it so often claims, “give new homebuyers extra protection”. It is merely the industry’s interpretation of requirements of existing laws such as the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

So what are Noel Hunter Chairman ‘Consumer Code for Home Builders’ Management Board suggestions to the Consumer redress consultation?

1.2 An Ombudsman will not deal with issues of build quality and customer service which have concerned consumers but would simply address the problems that arise. A more fundamental approach to improving the quality of all new homes is therefore essential, and that is what the Consumer Code for Home Builders (“the Code”) is working to achieve.

"limited in its scope" - The Consumer Code for Home BuildersNot true. A fully independent, government-appointed new homes ombudsman (NHO) would force housebuilders to look at what they do. All complaints to the NHO would be public and through meaningful, justifiable compensation payments housebuilders would be forced to improve the quality of the homes they build. The Consumer Code for Home Builders has been in existence for 8 years and it is a quantifiable fact the overall quality of new homes has fallen over that period. “Working to achieve”? – maybe, but only now a new homes ombudsman is about to make the CCHB redundant.

1.5 We are currently working with the Home Builders Federation, Homes for Scotland and others in the home warranty and home building sector to find an industry-led solution that could more easily be implemented to address concerns in the new home build sector.

“Find an industry-led solution”? The CCHB was industry-led and was found by a government inquiry to “not give a satisfactory form of redress” This profit-driven industry has had the last twenty years to improve quality and customer service when buyers report defects. It has failed all-ends-up to do so. It is not about doing what is “easily implemented” but doing what will be better and most effective for new home buying consumers.

2.5 Whilst we are supportive of the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid’s desire to improve consumer protection within the housing sector, we do not believe that a single Housing Ombudsman will provide the solution given the complexities involved in the construction and sale of new homes and the very different issues within the broader housing sector relating to second-hand homes, the rental market and social housing sectors, by way of example.

On this we can agree. The CIOB also agree that a separate, stand-alone New Home Ombudsman is required their spokesperson told me: “it shouldn’t be about condensing all the work of the various ombudsman but in fact offering something that really meets the needs of the consumer”

2.8 However, on those occasions where there are matters that need to be addressed, an Ombudsman will not be able to deal with any intrinsic systemic and operational issues within a specific home builder company that do concern those consumers, but will simply address the problems that arise. A Consumer Code can work with builders to ensure quality is further raised across the board.

“Can work with builders to ensure quality is further raised”  The quality of new homes has got worse, it has never been raised at all. More and more new homebuyers are contacting me in distress, due to their indifferent housebuilders failing, to not only fix defects in their homes, but even to recognise their own responsibility to do so. There are also increasing instances of buyer’s dissatisfaction with the way NHBC deals with buyers’ warranty claims. How could the CCHB possibly ensure quality is raised, when it hasn’t even managed to get plc housebuilders to abide with the basic 19 requirements of the CCHB in 8 years!

3.2 Since its launch, the Code has led to a step-change in how builders deal with customers through the sales process and is now in its fourth edition. It has been reviewed three times with wide consultation across the industry; consumer groups and Government, most recently in 2016 whereby the review was overseen by a former Director General of Fair Trading. Each time, the Code has been updated and improved to provide greater protection for consumers.

Four revisions to the CCHB in 8 years! “Updated and improved” – for who? The latest CCHB evision making it more difficult for new homebuyers to get justice. The CCHB is not even a Chartered Institute of Trading Standards approved scheme!

Moving forward
4.1 All that said, to further improve consumer protection and address any identified gaps when dealing with new home problems, we are working closely with the HBF, Homes for Scotland and representatives from other warranty providers. To date, those discussions have included:
• Working towards a single common Code;
• Working towards an agreed set of warranty standards which conform to best practice;
• Improving the independence of the existing governance structure;
• Improvement of the existing Independent Dispute Resolution Scheme(s) by way of providing free access to consumers and extending it to cover any gaps identified between the home builder and the home warranty cover in relation to dealing with quality issues;
•  Implementation of an Ombudsman redress scheme.

All of which is too little, too late. It is ONLY now being looked at because of the threat of a fully independent, government-appointed, new homes ombudsman. Otherwise why haven’t the CCHB and the industry acted before now? The Barker Review was way back in 2004 and the Office of Fair Trading Market Study of Home Building in the UK published in October 2008, both many years ago!

7.2 However, we believe it [CCHB] can be strengthened further by making it more independent of the Industry. This would not preclude the Industry being represented on the Board; on the contrary we believe that this would be desirable in the interest of reaching effective and practical solutions. However, the Board should be balanced, but with a majority of independents. Plans are already in place to make such changes.

The CCHB will never be independent of the industry. Its tentacles will be all over it, even with “independents” on the board. The NHBC has a council from many disciplines, but it has been controlled and influenced by housebuilder representation. Only a government-appointed new homes ombudsman, accountable and answerable to government, would be truly and demonstrably independent.

8.1 We are currently looking at ways we can improve the existing Independent Dispute Resolution Scheme by way of providing free access to consumers and extending it to cover any gaps identified between the home builder and the home warranty cover in relation to dealing with quality issues.

The CCHB should have included defects, poor quality and warranty issues but these were and still are, specifically excluded to protect housebuilders and warranty providers, not new homebuyers.

8.2 You have asked within your consultation whether purchasers of new build homes should have access to an Ombudsman scheme; we consider that the importance is not necessarily whether it is an Ombudsman scheme, but more that there should be access to an Independent Dispute Resolution Scheme that can determine on issues that arise.

Unsurprisingly, as a proper new homes ombudsman would make the CCHB redundant. IDRS has not served new home buyers within the “limited scope” of the existing CCHB. Far too often, even when buyers succeed, payments are a small fraction of what was justifiable.

8.3 Whilst we understand that the Property Ombudsman and Ombudsman Services (Property) have proved to be effective in addressing issues with estate agents in the second-hand homes market, our Code along with others in the sector already use CEDR Ltd:  They are the leading independent commercial Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provider in Europe and one of the largest and leading ADR organisations internationally, dealing with over 300,000 people in commercial disputes and resolving over 100,000 consumer disputes across 30 differing sectors.

CEDR Ltd are indeed a commercial ADR, As such they have commercial interests to protect. An independent new homes ombudsman would be non commercial: FREE – FAIR – FOR EVERYTHING

8.4 CEDR Ltd are accredited with the Chartered Trading Standards Institute under the ADR Directive and are an associate member of the Ombudsman Association and we are already in discussion with them as to how they may alter their services to meet Government’s expectations.

CEDR may well be accredited with the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) but the CCHB is not approved by the CTSI.

8.6 We do not believe an Ombudsman scheme in isolation would, or could, offer the same levels of protection to consumers as home buyers currently have under the Code as it would not, by definition, embody a compliance regime as referenced above. A voluntary Ombudsman scheme inevitably would not engage all home builders as happens with the current warranty-led scheme where involvement in the Code is made mandatory by way of the warranty bodies’ Rules of Registration.

As previously mentioned, the CCHB does not offer any “protection” to buyers whatsoever! A New Homes Ombudsman scheme would not be voluntary at all. Every housebuilder would be legally required to be bound by its decisions and scrutiny, paying a levy based on the number of homes each build.

8.14 Many of the issues being raised recently in the media are deemed to be “snagging” issues. This is a broad term and further clarity on what this means would help – some may be quality issues, others maintenance issues that appear over time as the property “settles in” and dries out, and others might relate to work that needs to be completed. An agreed timeframe for resolution of defects may reduce the volume of complaints and it is then possible to consider that those that are not dealt with in that time could then be escalated either through the home warranty provider or failing that, the Independent Dispute Resolution Scheme.

This is typical of this industry, to attempt to minimise often serious defects in new homes as minor, snagging, or maintenance issues after “settling in”. In reality, thousands of new homebuyers have recently found a voice and engaged with the media to make very public the extent and often serious defects in their new homes, such as missing insulation, weak mortar, defective render and issues with timber floors.

Increasingly, buyers are required to move out of their dream homes whilst their homes are torn apart and (hopefully) defects are rectified. It is neither fair nor just that in these instances, many of which cause ill health due to the stress and anxiety caused by housebuilders’ persistent denial of obvious issues, that there is currently no independent mechanism for justifiable compensation to be paid. An independent new homes ombudsman would address this gap.

8.16 Given all of these issues, we would suggest that a time-limited and independent study is carried out to review the way in which quality issues are dealt with, and to identify the gaps which an independent dispute resolution service would be best to address. Such a study would ensure consumers are fully covered for all matters of complaint in the future.

The last thing beleaguered new homebuyers need is yet more delay. There is no need for a study, this industry knows full well the serious nature of defects, poor quality and how it acts towards its own customers. It chooses to do nothing. Further consultations, calls for information or green and white papers will only give more delay. What is needed is action, the setting up of a new homes ombudsman as soon as possible.

Sanctions
9.1 In respect of your consultation question around what kind of sanctions should a redress scheme have access to, we do not believe the purpose of a redress scheme is to act as a regulator but rather the purpose of the scheme should be to put the individual back in the position they would have been in had the service failure not occurred.

A redress scheme that does not actively punish or sanction miscreants or act to prevent reoccurrence of similar complaints will be ineffective and not give consumers the redress they deserve or seek. To “put the individual back in the position they would have been in had the service failure not occurred.” With new homes would mostly mean remedial works to bring the new home up to the required standard. It would not address the issue of compensation for inconvenience and stress caused both before and during the required works.

Publication of decisions
10.2 A large business may receive more complaints just by the nature of the volume of homes sold but that may not mean that it is worse than perhaps a small business that might receive one or two cases, which could, therefore, indicate a more severe problem. Consumers often only look at the volume of complaints and perception is often the more complaints the worse the company.

The more complaints the worse the company is a fairly logical conclusion. Barratt (17,395 homes) have fewer complaints than Taylor Wimpey (14,842 homes) and both have fewer complaints than Persimmon (16,042 homes) – based on HBF survey star rating and social media. With a housebuilder league table, new homebuyers would be able to avoid the worse of the plc housebuilders, or at least know what they were letting themselves in for!

10.3 Trends data and context is key here and while we would not oppose the publishing of such information, it nonetheless should be in a considered and balanced way given that consumers will often buy a new home due to the location and affordability as opposed to the identity of the developer building it.

“A considered and balanced way”? In other words, in a way that the industry approves of.

Next Steps
11.1 The consultation asks if there should be a statutory body and our concern is that this will require parliamentary time to establish, which could take several years through the legislative framework. 90% of the home building industry is already supported by, and complies with, our Code and we believe that by finding an industry-led solution, we can increase the cover.

Time is of the essence. The only delay being government lack of urgency. Any legislation could be sorted out in a week if there was a will to do so. Implying a new homes ombudsman would take several years as a justification to trust the existing and failing CCHB to “find an industry-led solution” is ridiculous. That time has long since passed as Tony Lloyd MP for Rochdale said:
“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” During a debate in the House of Commons the then 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.”

11.2 By expanding its remit to cover the issues currently being faced by home buyers in relation to redress, and by working with others within the home warranty and home building sector, supporting HBF, we believe we can provide an industry-led solution that could more easily be implemented with support of both the industry and key stakeholders.

The CCHB had an opportunity to “expand the remit” during the fourth revision to the CCHB.  Yet the latest incarnate of the Code made it even more difficult and placed new obstacles for new homebuyers seeking redress.

11.3 If agreed, we will continue to work with HBF, Homes for Scotland and other colleagues to address the issues raised within the consultation setting out a framework and agreed timetable for implementation.

In other words work with the wider industry to protect its interests and ensure that any new homes ombudsman redress scheme is managed and set up by the industry, no doubt as the CCHB was and will be “limited in its scope” and “not appear to us objectively to offer consumers a wholly satisfactory form of redress”

The British new homebuyer deserves better from government! The CIOB hold the view that only a fully independent New Homes Ombudsman, by its very existence, would drive housebuilders to reflect on the work they carry out and drive them to aspire to ‘do better’ in the knowledge that their customers can complain to an independent ombudsman.

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Are new homebuyers taken in with bogus builder star rating?

Home Builders Federation (HBF) 8-week “Satisfaction” Survey 2018

So six months after the industry’s in-house “customer satisfaction ” survey year-end on 30 September 2017, the HBF have finally released the results. So what do they say to the new home buying British consumer?
HBF 8-week Satisfaction Survey

The HBF claim “Homeowner satisfaction with new homes remains high”

Despite the HBF survey responses being repositioned this year, (with the key question “Would you recommend your builder to a friend?” buried in the third row!) the ongoing failure of this industry to its customers cannot be hidden.
FACT: Whilst the “Would you recommend your builder to a friend?” key star rating question score this year was 86% – up 2% on last year’s nine-year low of 84%, it is still at the same level it was in 2011 so no improvement.

“As output has risen, so quality has fallen – The evidence points to an industry…..which will at times ride rough-shod over dissatisfied buyers”+++ This demonstrated by the fact that 4% fewer than would recommend their builder, would buy another new home from any housebuilder.

Credit is due for the slight increase the number of surveys issued and the percentage returned. Out of 156,120 new homes built by housebuilders in the survey year, 93,444 (73%) surveys were sent out to the 127,800 private new homebuyers with 57,972 (62%) returned. Avant, rated 2 stars in 2016 are now 4 star rated in just two years, with a 193% increase in their “sample size” over that period.

The HBF say their Star Rating scheme:
“awards participating members a star rating based on the survey results is now an established barometer of performance and a widely used industry marketing tool. The survey also helps participating members identify areas they can improve and is used by HBF to rebuff unwarranted criticism of our industry.”

“Identify areas they can improve”
Taylor Wimpey have been rated 4 stars for the last 4 years, one of the few housebuilders to publish their actual percentage for the key star rating question – 87% (2014); 86% (2015); 85% (2016) and 88% in 2017. Just a 1% improvement over three years! Persimmon have been 3 star rated every year over the same period.

HBF 8-week Satisfaction SurveySurvey results “used by HBF to rebuff unwarranted criticism of our industry.”

Well they try to. The fact is, 99% of homebuyers reported defects in their new homes to the housebuilder within a few weeks of moving in. For the second year, 41% reported more than 10 defects. Imagine if virtually all new cars had defects? If housebuilders built cars, many would be on our roads with defective brakes and wheels falling off!

Why does the HBF not publish individual builder results for every question?
John Stewart HBF Director of Economic Affairs told me back in 2011:
“From a personal perspective, I think publishing more detailed company results would not have had any more impact on raising customer satisfaction among new home buyers. But it would most certainly have provided food for those who are prejudiced against the industry and simply seek to criticise. I see no value in this.”  

Yet according to HBF chief Stewart Baseley who is by his own admission says he is “a great believer in transparency” – “achieving such high levels of customer satisfaction, whilst delivering the steepest increase in the rate of house building we have seen for 40 years, is a considerable achievement.”
Considerable achievement? Well Bovis are still rated just two stars. This despite building 332 FEWER new homes last year – a drop of over 8% on the previous 12 months, according to the company, to “focus us once again on delivering high quality product and service to our customers.” Bovis have became the only plc housebuilder to be rated 2 stars in consecutive years, with less than half of Bovis’ buyers completing the survey.

Quality and satisfaction are not the same

To many, being “fairly satisfied” does not indicate full satisfaction, yet the structure of the HBF survey adds the “fairly” score to the “very” to get the overall “satisfaction” score the HBF publish.  In addition, a heavy emphasis is placed on the Yes/No responses to “would you recommend your builder to a friend?” It could be argued that many would, give a ‘Yes’ purely on the basis their experience was “not that bad” rather than “terrible” which would be a ‘No’. This is borne out by the result from the second question: “how likely would you recommend your builder to a friend?” with just half indicating a positive response. In addition: “NHBC 9-month customer satisfaction survey scores generally 5-10% LOWER than the HBF 8-week survey”+++ These 9-month survey responses have never been made public!

The HBF claim these latest results: “once again prove the industry’s commitment to achieving the highest levels of customer service and satisfaction. The results have been achieved over period that saw the steepest increase in house building activity we have seen for 40 years.”
Well not exactly. The number of total new homes built in 2017 was 162,490 still below the peak of 168,640 to 30 March 2007. As for the “prove industry’s commitment to achieving the highest levels of customer service” this is a disgraceful statement considering the nightmare that thousands of new homebuyers are suffering across the country, due to the ineptitude of indifferent housebuilders. Tell that to the 11,000* buyers – equating to 8.4% of all new homes completed in 2017 – that make an NHBC warranty claim every year, 30% ** of which are within the initial two-year period when housebuilders are responsible!

In addition to the high level of Customer Satisfaction revealed by the survey, the industry also has its own self-imposed Consumer Code, ensuring customer concerns are heard and that disputes can be resolved through an independent adjudication system.”
Self imposed? The requirements are derived from the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Customer concerns regarding poor quality, defects and warranty issues are not covered by this Code which “does not appear to objectively to offer consumers a wholly satisfactory form of redress and is limited in its scope”+++

“The survey results and the Code, in addition to a ten-year warranty on all new homes, combine to give new build home purchasers genuine confidence in the product they are buying.”

A survey with results used by this industry to “rebuff unwarranted criticism” and for marketing, an ineffective Code “limited in its scope” and warranties that seeks to bat away claims.
Let’s face it; this in-house industry survey is easily manipulated. All housebuilders can see their customer’s responses in real time on the NHBC portal, enabling them to incentive buyers of their homes to answer positively to the crucial star rating question: “Would you recommend your housebuilder to a friend?”  Furthermore 11,803 survey responses were not used for the sample size of the key question.  I asked the HBF why and they said:
“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 57,972 responses as other non HBF members are sampled as we want to get as full a picture as possible. However, every single valid Barratt response counts towards Barratt’s rating; every single valid Bovis response counts towards their score etc. Valid simply means completed by an owner occupier within the 20 week response window. Not one single valid survey was ‘not used’”

The APPG EBE in the report “More Homes – Fewer Complaints” agreed with me that the survey should be conducted completely independently of the industry. “Recommendation 10: 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….”
The HBF reaction? To attempt to reaffirm via a IPOs MORI review of the survey that said it is “fit for purpose” nevertheless “changes are being implemented in the next survey year.”
It may well be fit for the industry’s purposes, but is not in my opinion, fit to demonstrate rising customer service, satisfaction or that higher quality new homes are being built. In fact it is and always has been, woefully inadequate. Nevertheless, such as it is, it does paint a grim picture of an uncaring industry, hell bent on ever increasing their profits, whatever the consequences for naïve, trusting new homebuyers that believe their spin and hype.

*       NHBC annual report to 31 March 2016
**     Figures supplied by NHBC
+++ APPG Inquiry Report “More Homes Fewer Complaints” July 2016

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sajid Javid’s Housing White Paper – Britain’s Broken Housing Market

“We were promised a White Paper, but we have been presented with a white flag – feeble beyond belief”.. said John Healey shadow minister of state for housing. Others commented it was a “predictably damp squib” and a “missed opportunity.” Even Redrow said it was “disappointing” with chief executive John Tutte saying the housing white paper was very light on details and he was surprised it was more of a consultative document.  This is hardly surprising as the stench of the Home Builders Federation (HBF) was all over this housing white paper, an example being the caving into pressure from the likes John Tutte regarding newts “delaying” new home buildingSajid Javid the builders puppetBritain needed ‘Donald Trump’ style action and got a Donald Duck builders’ puppet. “Hard-hitting” proposals were watered down to Westminster’s famous thin gruel, generally becoming ideas for consultation, subjects for further discussion and situations to monitor. This 104 page housing white paper is little more than a plan for more talking and a missed opportunity for decisive, positive action.

On Tuesday DCLG secretary Sajid Javid declared that Britain’s housing market was indeed broken. With the average home costing eight-times average earnings and a total of 2.2 million working households with below-average incomes, spending a third or more of their disposable income on housing, it’s hard to disagree! Mr Javid claimed his housing white paper will provide “radical lasting reform” to fix it.

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NHBC hand millions in cash-backs to housebuilders

The NHBC has come into justifiable criticism in the national press recently. The NHBC provides warranties for around 80% of new homes built in any given year. Last year its accounts show it spent £90 million fixing 11,000 defective new homes. What is not listed is the total number of claims the NHBC rejected because the estimated cost of remedial work was judged (by the NHBC) to be less than their ‘minimum claim value’, currently £1,550. So unless buyer’s homes need costly repairs, their warranty claims are often rejected.

The NHBC state on their website:

“Our purpose is to work with the house-building industry to raise the standards of new homes and to provide protection for homebuyers in the form of Buildmark warranty and insurance. We are an independent, non-profit distributing company limited by guarantee – neither part of government, nor a charity. Our business is run by the Board of Directors with surpluses being re-invested in the improvement and development of our products and services.”

The standard of UK new homes is at its lowest since 2009 according to the results of the NHBC’s own Customer Satisfaction Survey!  So it might come as surprise to learn that in yesterday’s Guardian, Graham Ruddick reported that the NHBC has been paying around £10m-£15m every year to housebuilders in what he describes “is effectively a profit-share agreement.”

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Housebuilders’ Recommend A Friend Schemes

We all know about the oft-quoted HBF survey question: “Would you recommend your builder to a friend?” In the 2016 survey results an somewhat unbelievable 85% said they would, but did they? Most of the large house builders have recommend a friend schemes also known as “send a friend.” Normally a leaflet outlining the scheme is dropped in the Welcome Pack buyers are given when they move in to their new home. They offer a cash payment to buyers who recommend a friend or someone who goes on to buy a home from the house builder. These payments vary considerably from a paltry £300 (Keepmoat) up to £4,000, although it appears £500 is the most common.

For most, the extra money will come in handy at a time of need, especially with all the costs associated with moving home. But beware there is a procedure and significant hoops to jump through before you can get your referral cash,  even then it can take several weeks. The referral payment is only made following the friend’s legal completion.

Firstly, you should also consider whether your house builder is worthy of recommendation. Would your friend thank you if their new home turned out to be an unmitigated disaster from hell as they often do?

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Bovis give buyers £3,000 cash incentives to move into unfinished new homes.

Bovis Homes

Just when I think there isn’t anything else this industry can shock me with – coverage in the national press has revealed that Bovis Homes offered “bribes” of up to £3,000 to their buyers if they legally completed or moved into unfinished new homes on or before 23rd December 2016. This was done in a vain attempt to meet the City forecasted target of 4,170 completions for their financial year-end.

The “incentives” were offered to buyers just days before Bovis issued a profit warning, stating that 180 homes were “being deferred into early 2017” resulting in profits lower than previously expected. Equity analyst Anthony Codling at investment bank Jefferies, told The Times: “This will be where they are trying to make their targets. They would have been trying their hardest to complete those homes to get people moved in before Christmas. There is pressure from an investor perspective to meet the volume target and they will do what they can to meet those targets.”

Other analysts said that the cash incentives from Bovis were part of a failed attempt by the FTSE 250 company to meet City targets saying Bovis’ share price had “substantially underperformed the sector over the last seven years.”

Have Bovis Group attempted to deceive investors and the City as to the true year-end results of the Company, by pushing through legal completions (sales) on new homes that were not 100% finished at year-end? I am no expert on financial reporting regulations but more is here.  Perhaps this is something that the Financial Conduct Authority [FCA] should be investigating.

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