In its report, published today, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment (APPGEBE) calls on the government to make it mandatory for all housebuilders to belong to an independent ombudsman scheme. But BSRIA’s concerns can be summarised in the phrase “prevention is better than a cure”.
The report, ‘Better redress for homebuyers’, says that a New Homes Ombudsman should be “independent, free to consumers and provide a quick resolution to disputes” within certain time limits. It also recommends that government, warranty providers, housebuilders and consumer groups work together to draw up an industry-wide code of practice which would be used by the New Homes Ombudsman to adjudicate on disputes. This should offer reimbursement and compensation for frustrated home buyers.
Chris Knights, Business Manager, Compliance Department, BSRIA, said:
“Compulsory membership of a New Homes Ombudsman Scheme is a positive step and we hope it will benefit the construction industry. But the emphasis must be on quality wherein the focus is preventing building snags in the first instance.
“Indeed BSRIA hopes that an independent ombudsman scheme isn’t seen as an alternative to averting issues in the first place.
“BSRIA has suggested membership of a Competent Person Scheme which will improve new homes completion quality. The scheme should be independent and have no commercial relationship with any house builders and market shareholders.
“Conviction shown in membership of the ombudsman scheme as mandatory must be extended to the construction workers and their membership of their relevant competent workers’ schemes. It is better to prevent a condition than try to cure it. Effort should always focus on improving the quality of the new homes and addressing the home buyer needs.
“Efficient and transparent rectification and redress processes are a key part of consumer protection, however, we see more benefit in reducing consumer risk before the sale and occupation of the home. We need to ensure that the right problem prevention measures are in place prior to sale to reduce the number of complaints.
“BSRIA proposed measures to lock in quality more strongly during the construction process and before the point of purchase.”
This current inquiry has again highlighted the “confusing landscape” consumers face when they seek recompense for defective building, with a raft of warranties, housebuilding codes and complaints procedures.
This can take a toll on people’s wellbeing as they “wrestle with an almost Kafkaesque system designed to be unhelpful”. BSRIA has previously made the point that a “complicated, consumer-hostile, legal landscape is not helpful to a householder”.
To shrink consumer confusion and increase efficiency, the report is recommending a “single portal” for ombudsman services spanning the entire residential sector.
Back in January, BSRIA prepared its response to the APPGEBE announcement of a sixth inquiry, looking into the potential and detail for a New Homes Ombudsman.
And in February BSRIA was pleased to be invited to discuss such written response to the APPGEBE at an Inquiry at the House of Commons. The subject of the discussion was one of the recommendations in APPGEBE’s July 2016 report ‘More homes, fewer complaints’ that there should be a New Homes Ombudsman. Consumer complaints therein specifically referred to a high level of finishes and defects and the fact they are not covered by most insurances.
Funding for the scheme would be paid for by a levy on housebuilders, with larger companies paying proportionately more.