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MPs urge creation of New Homes Ombudsman

Words: Laura Edgar

A cross-party group of MPs and construction experts wants a new body to mediate in disputes between homebuyers and house builders.

This is one of 10 recommendations laid out in the report More Homes, Fewer Complaints by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment (APPGEBE) from the Commission of Inquiry into the Quality of New Build Housing in England.

In its report, the group says house builders should be upping their game and putting consumers at the heart of the business model. At the same time, the government should use its influence to promote quality at every opportunity.

Oliver Colville, Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton & Devonport and chairman of the group, noted the government’s intention to build one million new homes within the course of this Parliament. However, he said the view of the group 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 house builders make a concerted effort to create a more consumer-focused culture,” said Colville.

“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.”

Recommendations in the report include:

  • The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) should initiate steps to set up a New Homes Ombudsman. The role would include mediating disputes between customers and their builders or warranty providers to offer a quick resolution procedure paid for by a house builder’s levy. It would need to be completely independent and replace the dispute resolution service offered as part of the Consumer Code for Homes Builders.

  Buyers should have the right to inspect properties before completion. This 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 purpose would be to improve transparency of the design, building and inspection process.

  • The industry should significantly increase skills training programmes. Greater emphasis should be put on training and investment for both new and existing workers to embed a quality culture, while also bringing new people into the sector. Local authorities and the government should leverage more training by making it a condition on sale of their land.

Tony Burton, member of the Commission of Inquiry, said: “We need to see house builders 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.