A report published on 13th July 2013 by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment (APPGEBE) makes ten recommendations to address issues in the quality of new housing in England.
The UK housebuilding industry needs to increase the supply of new homes by an additional one million by 2020, but the report raises questions about the attention being paid to the quality of construction. After buyers have made the largest investment they will likely ever make, their disappointment is more than understandable when they take possession of their new homes only to discover that there are quality issues. Oliver Colvile MP, Chairman of the Group wishes to see ‘a clear process whereby developers can be held to account and are responsible for correcting any below-par workmanship as soon as possible’.
The following recommendations have been made:
- The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) should initiate steps to set up a New Homes Ombudsman, the role of which would include mediating disputes between consumers and their builders; or warranty providers to offer a quick resolution procedure, the funding for which would be met by a housebuilders’ levy.
- Housebuilding sales contracts should be standardised. Sales contracts are generally bespoke in nature, and contract clauses can deter new home buyers from pursuing claims. There is a call now for a standardised contract for all new homes, which would set out how disputes are handled. The final arbiter of disputes is likely to be a New Homes Ombudsman.
- Buyers should have the right to inspect properties before completion. The report calls for builders to give ten days’ notice to their buyers to allow them the opportunity to carry out a full survey.
- Builders should be required to provide buyers with a comprehensive information pack, including:
- Design details, including plans and specifications etc.;
- details of the Building Control and warranty inspections;
- an explanation of the warranty cover;
- which version of the Building Regulations that applied to the property;
- contact details for the builder in order that they may rectify any defect.
Andrew Crooks, Director at jhai advises that, ‘to ensure the home meets the minimum standards to secure compliance with the Building Regulations, certain completion information is required. I envisage that this will become part of the information pack’. A copy of jhai’s completion checklist can be viewed at the following web-link: Completion checklist.
- There should be a review of the laws governing consumer rights when purchasing new homes. There is a view that in disputes, and in particular the way the courts currently view the law in respect of defects which cause financial loss for the homeowner, the balance has tipped too far in favour of the housebuilder.
- DCLG should commission a thorough review of warranties. Current warranties offer varying levels of cover and consumer protection, which do not necessarily match consumer expectations. Perhaps the consumer would be willing to pay more for additional cover.
- Housebuilders should instigate a new quality culture by adopting quality systems to internationally recognised standards. It is hoped that housebuilders may adopt quality management systems, similar to those already held by jhai for a long time. jhai management systems have been registered to BS EN ISO 9001 since the late nineties. Andrew Crooks explains, ‘jhai has an internal audit team whose sole role it is to ensure a culture of continual improvement. This helps to shape the jhai Building Control service offering. jhai processes are externally audited by industry leaders TRADA to ensure its service meets the rigorous standards set by the Quality Management System standard, BS EN ISO9001. This mechanism is used to ensure continual improvement is made in all areas, so that its services are as close to getting it right first time every time as possible. Regular satisfaction surveys are undertaken to ensure its customers have their say.’
- The industry should significantly increase skills and training programmes. To embed the quality culture, greater emphasise is needed for investment in training. Andrew Crooks adds, ‘all of the jhai Project Managers, whose role it is to inspect works, are fully qualified and Chartered Surveyors, Chartered Builders or Chartered Building Engineers. jhai prides itself on providing unrivalled CPD and professional apprenticeship programmes to ensure it is providing the best Building Control inspection service possible.’
- A minimum standard should be set for the compliance of inspections. The report reminds the reader that the responsibility for defect free homes should rest with the housebuilder, who should not be relying on third party inspections to drive up quality. Third party inspections such as those checks carried out by Building Control and Warranty Surveyors do however play an absolutely vital role in reducing the likelihood of major failure. The report suggests that Building Control and Warranty Surveyors should increase their inspection fees. The Group makes the point that competition is forcing prices down and therefore not enough inspections are being undertaken. Andrew Crooks advises that, ‘this will make virtually no difference to the service currently provided by jhai Project Managers. We ask housebuilders to contact us at particular stages throughout the construction anyway. Inspection is best practice. Our clients may pay a little more but in return they benefit from inspections in accordance with our published regime. This can be viewed at the following web-link: jhai Inspection Regime.
- Housebuilders should make the annual customer satisfaction survey more independent to boost customer confidence. The group advocate the NHBC as best practice in surveys with their nine-month follow-up survey of new homeowners. The group hope that this will show if minor defects are being addressed by housebuilders.
Andrew Crooks advises that, ‘I welcome the findings of the report and I hope the Government choose to act quickly to action its recommendations. jhai is sometimes contacted by thankfully, a small number of new-build homeowners who feel that the quality of finish in their new home is poor. In my opinion more needs to be done to ensure a quality culture in housebuilding. jhai is a Building Control, Government Approved Inspector, there is little it can do to ensure quality of finishes. The Building Regulations themselves are limited in scope to that of securing minimum standards of health and safety. This is all that can be enforced in law. Inspection regimes are light touch by comparison to the role of the traditional ‘Clerk of Works’ role, who as a profession we see little of on-site anymore. I really hope that the housebuilders can react by providing an endemic culture of quality.
Asked if it would have a dramatic effect on the service provision of jhai, Andrew comments, ‘It is yet to be seen what exactly the Government will instigate as a result of the report. A quality management culture has always been our commitment. We are registered to Quality Management Standard BSEN ISO 9001. Not only that, but we are also registered to Environmental Management Standard BSEN 14001 and Occupational Health and Safety Standard OHSAS 18001. We maintain compliance to these standards to show a deep-set commitment to our customers; to ensure that they are getting the best service possible. We already have unrivalled training programmes in the Company. I do not envisage it will make an awful lot of difference to our service offering. But if some change is required, we will react to ensure it is completely embraced and live up to the implication of our strapline that we are ‘All the Approval you need’.’