MPs call for new homes ombudsman service

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 just one of the recommendations from a new report, More Homes, Fewer Complaints, by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment (APPGEBE).

The report sets out 10 recommendations to improve the quality of workmanship in new homes and provide consumers with easier and cheaper forms of redress should any problems arise. Although the majority of homebuyers are happy with the quality of their new homes, a new homes ombudsman service would shore up confidence in the sector.

The report says that housebuilders 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.

“The Government is intent on seeing the construction of one million new homes within the course of this Parliament,” said Oliver Colvile, chairman of the group. “However, our view is that increasing the quantity of new homes must not be achieved at the expense of their quality…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.”

“The APPG has taken a hard look at the need to raise the quality of new build housing,” Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, vice-chair of the group added. “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;
  • A minimum standard should be set for compliance inspections. 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.

“We welcome the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Excellence for the Built Environment (APPGEBE) report and strongly support its recommendations,” said Paula Higgins, chief executive of HomeOwners Alliance. “It provides strong evidence that people purchasing new build homes need more rights and access to adequate redress when things go wrong. We are constantly approached by new build homeowners in need of help because they have issues with the quality of their new build home but feel ignored.

“There is a serious lack of consumer protection for people buying new build homes which must be addressed urgently. The government must take a lead role to make sure house builders deliver a quality product and service – and not just focus on the numbers being built.”

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