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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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Government Consultation – Apathy, Ignorance and Lack of Publicity

Government Consultation: New homebuyers – why you should be bothered!

So after four years of campaigning for the government to set up an independent New Homes Ombudsman, new homebuyers finally have a golden opportunity to tell government to set one up. Given the 100,000 or more that buy a defective new-build home each year, (98% reported issues to their housebuilder within a few weeks of moving in, 41% reporting 11 or more “problems”) you would think new homebuyers would be ‘chomping at the bit’ to complete the government consultation!

Government consultationBut here’s the rub; the government are not publicising this consultation  at all. National newspapers have given it scant coverage of the consultation since the 18th February 2018 press release. Last Sunday, The Observer provided the only coverage of this important government consultation in a national newspaper since the press release. Even so, it only briefly touched on it saying “The government is consulting on proposals that include a single housing ombudsman to handle complaints” but didn’t say the views of new homebuyers are being asked for.  On 10 March, I contacted 35 journalists from national newspapers, just four replied! One had already written the story above, another has plans to cover the topic, PA to the Editor of the Mail on Sunday said she would “forward it to the news desk” and another forwarded my email to her editor as she will be abroad until April.

The Consultation “Strengthening consumer redress in the housing market” was “announced” on a Sunday, 18 February 2018, in a ‘blaze’ of publicity that was little more than a regurgitation of the MHLG press release which soon fizzled out faster than a budget supermarket firework on a wet night. Has lazy journalism replaced investigative journalism? Has anyone actually read the Consultation documentation?

But even if this government consultation was well publicised and made clear that the public should take part, it looks to me that the vast majority of new homebuyers wouldn’t be prepared to spend a few minutes to complete it. There are times, when I feel I am the only person trying to do something about defective new homes and errant housebuilders. Those that buy new homes, apart from a very few, in the main seem happy to do nothing themselves apart from seek help and moan about their new homes on social media. Ignorance and apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care!

I emailed around 400 new homebuyers (those that had previously contacted me for help and advice) asking them to complete this consultation, one replied saying: “Why would I help you out? I’m sorted now.”  Point to note you are not “helping me out” you are helping yourself and all future new homebuyers! On a personal level, I will never have a need to use a New Homes Ombudsman, as I would never buy a new home!

Posts on housebuilder Facebook “new homebuyer action” groups usually start:

“has anyone…”    “Can anyone….”    “Does anyone….”    “Question about….”
“I was wondering if anyone could help me…..”
   But very rarely: “This might be useful/help others”  Ask not what other new homebuyers can do for you, but what you can do for other new homebuyers!  But how many members of these various Groups will actually complete this consultation? I would be astounded if it was even as high as 1 in 20!

The previous government consultation “tackling unfair practices in the leasehold market”  stated: “The response to those plans, published here  was overwhelming. We received a staggering response with 6,075 replies” [5,336 private individuals of these 4,489 being leaseholders], demonstrating the strength of interest in this issue.”  This due to a large degree by very active Facebook Campaign Group with over 10,000 members and the support and backing of a registered charity with full-time employees, The Leasehold Knowledge Partnership vigorously promoting that Consultation in the press.

So government considers a response of a little over 6,000 is “overwhelming”. Imagine what the response would be if 15,000 (around just 10% of those that buy a new-build home every year) completed the current government consultation and demanded an independent, stand-alone, new homes ombudsman be set up by government.

Just when I think it couldn’t get any worse – two ‘copy cat’ consultations are been launched:

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) consultation is asking members and other industry professionals for views on some of the exact same questions of current government consultation on strengthening consumer redress in the housing market. A spokesman from the CIOB told me:

“we are in support of a New Homes Ombudsman as we highlighted in our response to the APPG for Excellence in the Built Environment Inquiry. What we are trying to do by asking members a select number of questions in the survey is to get some data together to put forward in our response. We are not duplicating the work just that in our experience, members maybe too busy to respond or simply not know the process. Therefore, many CIOB members often share their views with us so we can formulate a response. Of course, what our members say isn’t gospel and we act entirely in the public interest.”

Hot on the CIOB heals comes yet another Consultation, this from Ombudsman Services that only last month declared said it would no longer offer “a broken solution to a broken market“.  But it would seem is now touting to be the single “Housing Ombudsman” that is Sajid Javid’s preferred option. Ombudsman Services new survey, “Building Balance”, has been launched, asking for views on a topics such as whether there should be a single ombudsman, and whether the current system is muddling for users. Well the number of simultaneous consultations certainly is!

These are in addition to another  consultation on commonhold – a result of the consultation on leasehold reform  last year, which is also ends on 16th April 2018.

The RIBA has a “Building on Quality” consultation. Point to note: to build on something it has to exist in the first place!

At least this one from What Mortgage comes with a chance to win £500 (now there’s an idea Mr Javid!)  but this looks to me to be little more than an exercise to harvest consumer data that can be passed to housebuilders!

In all likelihood,  the housebuilding lobby will get what they want, an ineffective ombudsman, which the industry has control over, that consumers don’t know about (just like their ineffective Consumer Code for Home Builders) and it could well be buried within a wider “Housing Ombudsman” which government would prefer. Great job Jibber Jabber!

If new homebuyers don’t know about this consultation, or worse can’t be bothered to complete it, nothing will change.

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Strengthening consumer redress in the housing market – A Consultation.

An 8-week consultation is launched with the potential to give new homebuyers a route to an independent new homes ombudsman

Sajid JavidThis 8-week consultation, hot on the heels of the ‘behind closed doors’ sessions of the APPG EBE Inquiry to look into the potential and detail for a New Homes Ombudsman”,  announced by Sajid Javid on 29 November 2017, was finally launched on 18 February 2018 and is indeed taking place “in the New Year” It is titled “Strengthening consumer redress in the housing market” but is it what it seems?

Is Javid fully committed to giving beleaguered new homebuyers a statutory New Homes Ombudsman? This being paid for by a levy on housebuilders as recommended in the APPG EBE strangely titled Inquiry report “More Homes – Fewer Complaints” published as long ago as 13 July 2016!

Since this Inquiry report, we have had three housing ministers, yet none of them has seen fit to implement any of the APPG Inquiry report recommendations. We have reviews, considerations, discussions with stakeholders and all manner of excuses and delays. In the meantime, I have encouraged new homebuyers to write to their MPs and demand a new homes ombudsman be set up. So now 20 months later, we have yet another ongoing APPG EBE Inquiry (with any report due August at the earliest with October more realistic) and Javid’s 8-week Consultation ending on 16th April 2018.

The last housing 8-week consultation regarding unfair leasehold practices was from 25 July to 19 September 2017. The government response, dated 21 December 2017, (91 days after that consultation ended) indicted that just 5,336 private individuals took part. The Facebook National Leasehold Campaign Group has 10,000 members! It is to be hoped that at over 15,000 new home buyers will take part in the current consultation and leave the government in no doubt that a stand-alone new homes ombudsman is badly needed. Given previous experience, the government response can be expected around 16 July 2018.

So let’s go through the nitty-gritty, of the Consultation notes, page by page:

So first point to note on page 4 is “Any policy changes brought forward as a result of the consultation would be subject to appropriate assessment”
A ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card for housebuilders?

It is clear from Javid’s Foreword that he personally favours a single housing ombudsman. But a Housing Ombudsman already exists, so is Javid saying it isn’t working effectively? Is he using the furore surrounding defective new homes as a way to force through root and branch changes to the existing Housing Ombudsman? It would appear that the current proposal he favours is to combine the various existing ombudsman dealing with housing issues into one and add a function within that for new home buyers to seek redress against their failing housebuilders. Page 25 states that “primary legislation would ultimately be required to create an entirely new organisation to combine most of the existing housing redress functions and potentially also new functions” (a new homes ombudsman?)

On page 6 we find another ‘Get Out of Jail Free Card’ this time for the warranty providers as consumer redress would still remain with the Financial Ombudsman Service. Issues with new homes can be both technical and complicated and not suitable for an assessor at the FOS to rule on even though a new home warranty is in essence, an insurance product.NHBC New Home Warranty not within scope of the consultationA great deal of this consultation scope relates to tenants, social housing, estate agents, park homes and finally, buyers of new build homes (page 9) where it states that if the housebuilder fails to resolve issues and “the buyer disagrees with the warranty provider’s decision, or no action is taken the consumer can find they have no route to redress.” 

Apparently The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 are enforced by Local Trading standards Services” (page 10). So can we expect a prosecuting for this blatant and proven breach?  

Finally, on page 19 we have three paragraphs under the heading “Buyers of new build homes”  there is an acknowledgement that “there are gaps in protection and there needs to be more robust protection for homebuyers in the first two years after purchase.” It also states that “We [the government] are working with the Home Builders Federation and warranty providers to address these issues and we want them to continue to drive improvement.”  The clear reality is there has been deterioration in the last 20 years. The HBF will always seek to protect the interests of their member plc housebuilders and warranty providers will protect their own interests, both ahead of those of consumers. 

Guidance for new homebuyers completing the consultation survey:

Question 2 answer “A person who has recently bought a new home” This is important as it will show the number of new home owners that took part in the consultation and demonstrate the need for a specific new homes ombudsman.

Questions 6 and 7. If you tick “The Consumer Code (IDRS)” please also give your opinion of how satisfied you are. Around 61% of new homebuyer’s cases with the CCHB adjudication scheme succeeded since it started but awards averaged just £1,498 – just 18% of the amount claimed! The government may try to claim the CCHB IDRS is effective even though the previous APPG Inquiry found it “limited in scope” and “does not appear to us objectively to offer consumers a wholly satisfactory form of redress”

Question 8 answer “there are gaps in redress”
That is, there is no independent, government-appointed new homes ombudsman!

Question 9 has no option for a New Homes Ombudsman. Those completing are advised to select “Other” and write “new homes ombudsman” in the box

Question 10 answer “Yes” and add “an independent statutory new homes ombudsman” in the box.

It is vital that the new home disputes are regarded as a separate issues from the existing housing ombudsman that deals with tenant disputes etc so,
Question 11 should be answered “NO – different sectors require different practices.”

Question 13 should be answered “Yes”
All ombudsmen should publish decisions as it is in the public interest to do so.

Question 14 “Time to deal with a complaint” is more difficult, so answer -“it depends on the complexity of each case” as specialist testing and reports may be required for new home issues.

On page 16 we learn that the Housing Ombudsman awarded compensation in a third of cases ranging from a ‘massive’ £20 to £8,195 – hardly suitable for new homebuyers! Most common awards across the three existing property schemes were stated as a paltry £50 to £500. Clearly miserly awards like these are not going to force housebuilders to improve what they do and don’t do!

Question 16 “Sanctions” Answer – “Financial award greater than £25,000” as justifiable, meaningful compensation must be available for the new homes ombudsman to award. Be wary of “Do you want to continue with the survey?” Click “YES – continue to section 5 addressing the gaps” otherwise you will miss the crucial questions for new home buyers!  Was this a cynical attempt by government to avoid responses from new homebuyers?
Consultation trick to miss new home questions?Question 17 Answer “Yes” adding in the box that “the CCHB does not cover disputes regarding snagging, quality and defects in new homes or any warranty issues or disputes with warranty providers.”

Questions 18, 19, 20 and 21 are crucial for all new homebuyers and need your responses as shown below:
Consulation New Home Buyer questionsQuestion 30 is perhaps the most significant question as it is the only opportunity for a response to ensure that a new home ombudsman is separate from a general ‘one-size-fits-all’ “housing ombudsman” that Sajid Javid appears to prefer.A separate New Homes OmbudsmanIt is imperative that the link to this consultation is shared via social media with all those that have bought a new build home. It needs a high response from new homebuyers to force government to sit up and take note and set up an independent new homes ombudsman as soon as possible.
https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/Housingredress

If such a new homes ombudsman existed, all new homebuyers would be able to claim justifiable compensation, not just get their defective new homes rectified eventually! This is in everyone’s interests, those that have bought a new home and those that will in the many years to come! It is just too important to ignore.

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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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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.”

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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 and David Wilson Homes on BBC Radio 4 You and Yours

The BBC Radio 4 ‘You and Yours’ programme on 26 October 2016, was  a great opportunity to further promote the setting up of a government-appointed New Homes Ombudsman and the implementation of the other nine APPG report recommendations. This is necessary because as the APPG Inquiry discovered, both housebuilders and warranty providers are failing new homebuyers despite a record £81million being spent on claims under the NHBC warranty to April 2015. It was disappointing that this Petition to Government was not mentioned.

The recent repeat of a BBC TV documentary, “Inside the Commons” – showed how government works and without a parliamentary debate, the APPG recommendations are very unlikely to be implemented anytime soon. Individual MPs, even if they are successful in the Private Member’s Bill ballot, rarely see their bill become law.

This You and Yours broadcast on BBC Radio 4 featured the ubiquitous new home buying “victim” selected to tell their ‘tale of woe’ with possible practical solutions to the widespread problems the industry is causing, overlooked or touched on very briefly. The programme gave housebuilder David Wilson Homes the opportunity to issue the usual insincere housebuilder  statement:- “rare isolated incidence – we are truly sorry – working with the homeowner to remedy as soon as possible”

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Annual Report 2015/16 – Consumer Code for Home Builders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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