Steve Double MP: There is less protective legislation binding a home purchase, than on a phone contract
Steve Double argues that the establishment of a home-buyers ombudsman should be considered to bring fresh focus to the sector.
In the UK, we are different from many of our European neighbours in that home-ownership is aspired to by the vast majority of people. In a recent British Social Attitudes Survey, 86% of those asked said they wanted to buy their own home.
The reassurance of having your own home; putting down roots and being part of building a local community; the sense of making a permanent home and a likely sound investment make this an entirely logical and very British state of affairs.
Recent measures to increase house-building and therefore home-ownership, such as the new extension of the Help to Buy scheme are a brilliant step forward to help our young people get their foot on the housing ladder. However, this needs to be matched by an ambitious house building programme to meet the demand. If we are building all these houses, we need to ensure that the people who buy them can be confident that the homes they buy will be of a good quality in both design and construction.
Many new home owners are satisfied with the build quality, minor issues aside and are overall happy with the quality of the build. However, figures from The House Builders Federation and the National House Building Council (NHBC) show a staggering 27% of buyers said their new homes had more problems than they were expecting.
Virtually all new homes are sold with a ten year warranty in place. When faults emerge, in the first two years the builder is responsible for remedial works. If there is a dispute, then the Warranty Company will act as adjudicator or if the builder is no longer trading the Warranty Company steps in. After two years, the Warranty Company takes responsibility for the remaining eight years.
I recently had correspondence and met with a couple in the constituency I represent of St Austell and Newquay who had obvious and serious problems with their new build house. They first discovered the serious defects with their newly built property eight weeks after taking possession. Four years later they are still fighting their case.
It transpired that similar defects were emerging on several other houses on the same development too, adding both to their anxiety and consternation. They said to me that far from the ten year Warranty Company provider helping them, they felt thwarted at every turn, sent around in circles, left for months on end with unhelpful responses - or none.
Although most people get a reasonably good service from the warranty companies, too many are being let down.
NHBC, the market leader, have a strap line on their website. It reads,
“Raising standards, protecting homeowners.”
That's not the experience of my constituent and many others across the country.
The current new build Warranty market and the close arrangements between them and developers often leaves new homeowners wondering precisely whose side they are on. Clearly a fresh look at these arrangements is required to improve the current market. There is currently less protective legislation binding the purchase of a new home, often the biggest purchase someone can make in their life, than there is in buying a new contract for a mobile phone.
Since securing my debate I have already been contacted by the new CEO of NHBC who has admitted that more needs to be done to ensure people get the service they are entitled to,
One option I believe should be considered is to establish a new home buyers Ombudsman. An Independent Ombudsman would by its very existence bring urgently needed fresh focus to the industry. As ever, it is far easier and cheaper to get it right first time and with the prospect of an independent body adjudicating, that in itself will produce a new impetuous to achieve a better outcome for all.
In the meantime, it will form part of my work to call out insurers who fail to act promptly and fairly in the interests of new home owners in Mid-Cornwall.
Steve Double is the Conservative Member of Parliament for St Austell and Newquay