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MPs call for a New Homes Ombudsman

Posted: 13th July 2016

A cross-party committee of MPs and construction experts is calling on the Government to set up a New Homes Ombudsman to mediate in disputes between homebuyers and housebuilders. This is one of 10 recommendations setting out measures to improve the quality of workmanship in new homes and provide consumers with easier and cheaper forms of redress, to get problems fixed.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment (APPGEBE), in its report More homes, fewer complaints, launched on 13 July 2016, says house builders should be upping their game and putting consumers at the heart of the business model. Alongside this, Government should use its influence to promote quality at every opportunity.

Chairman of the group, Oliver Colvile MP said: “The Government is intent on seeing the construction of one million new homes within the course of this Parliament. However, our view is that increasing the quantity of new homes must not be achieved at the expense of their quality. It is clear to us that there is a quality gap between customer demands and industry delivery. Closing this gap will only come about, we believe, if housebuilders make a concerted effort to create a more consumer-focused culture. From the evidence we heard, consumers want to see an improved quality of build, homes that are fit for purpose and an easy to understand warranty. When something is wrong, consumers want an affordable and accessible means of putting it right. To this end we have set out a series of measures to redress the imbalance between buyers and sellers.”

Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, Vice-chair of the group added: “The APPG has taken a hard look at the need to raise the quality of new build housing. The role of the building control inspector is a key part of the process, and the report tackles this head on, both by recommending a minimum level of compliance inspections, and by giving new home buyers information about the building inspections carried out. Making the building inspector’s reports available to people who are buying a new home is an important way to improve transparency, and I welcome the fact that in response to my call for change, the Minister has already indicated that he will act.”

Recommendations include:

  • Department for Communities and Local Government should initiate steps to set 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.
  • Housebuilding sales contracts should be standardised. This would remove much of the uncertainty that presently arises from the bespoke nature of each builder’s sales contract, which can deter so many from pursuing claims
  • Buyers should have the right to inspect properties before completion. Such a provision would discourage builders from serving notices to complete prematurely, or concealing major defects until after they have received the full purchase price, and would also encourage better quality control and site management pre-completion
  • Builders should be required to provide buyers with a comprehensive information pack – the aim being to improve transparency of the design, building and inspection process. The pack should contain information including, designs and plans, specifications and details about both warranty and building control inspections, when carried out and by whom.
  • DCLG should commission a thorough review of warranties. At present warranty providers offer varying levels of cover and consumer protection. Our evidence suggested that warranties on new homes did not match the expectations of the consumer and our suggestion is that they need to be reviewed.
  • A minimum standard should be set for compliance inspections. We are concerned that competition in building control might be fuelling a race to the bottom and we are therefore recommending there should be a defined minimum number of inspections that local authority building control and approved inspectors in the private sector should not fall below.

Tony Burton, member of the Commission of Inquiry, said: “We need to see housebuilders putting consumers at the heart of what they do. This will involve new mechanisms and a fresh culture at every step of the process.”

More information about the Group, the Committee and the Inquiry can be found here.