Written evidence submitted by Homes for Scotland [BSB 331]
New Homes Ombudsman Scheme
Homes for Scotland (HFS) and its’ members who together provide 95% of all new homes built for sale in Scotland each year are fully committed to increasing standards for each and every purchaser of a new build home. Improving customer satisfaction and build quality are core objectives that are engrained throughout the HFS Strategy, which clearly sets out how HFS, as the major representative body of home builders in Scotland will work with our members to ensure they strengthen their existing processes in relation to customer protection and satisfaction.
As such we welcome the provisions for the creation of a voluntary New Homes Ombudsman Scheme within the Draft Building Safety Bill. This has followed a period of significant collaboration between HFS, Home Builders Federation (HBF), warranty bodies, mortgage lenders and the respective Consumer Codes to establish such a New Homes Ombudsman. We believe that for the new scheme to be fully successful, that it should cover new home sales and purchasers across the entirety of the UK, to give consumers robust protections and developers clarity of what is required of them, wherever the homes may be built.
The industry has now made significant progress on its way to establishing an industry created New Homes Ombudsman Scheme, and believe that it will become operational within the first months of 2021 following its official approval by the Ombudsman Association. An Interim New Homes Quality Board was launched in May 2020, which as a new independent body, comprising of both consumer and industry representatives will oversee:
- The completion and adoption of a new industry code of practice that will place more stringent requirement on all parties involved in the construction, inspection, sale and aftercare of new homes.
- Agree and finalise a new homes ombudsman service to adjudicate against the new code within a truly independent dispute resolution service. All the new arrangements will be paid for by the industry and once established, the New Homes Ombudsman will be free to all consumers of new build homes, with simple access being granted through a new online portal.
Whilst we would encourage the Government to allow the sector to move ahead with the industry led scheme, we do have queries in regards to specific elements of the draft bill regarding the New Homes Ombudsman Scheme should it be enforced in a statutory manner:
106 The new homes ombudsman scheme
(4) “The scheme may also include provisions for persons other than relevant owners of new build homes to have complaints against members of the scheme investigated under the scheme.”
Whilst the definitions given to whom a relevant owner may be are clear in that they must be an individual with a relevant interest in the land of which they occupy a new build home, no definition is given to who or why persons other than a relevant owner may have complaints registered with the scheme. This must be clarified.
113 Housing complaints made to a housing ombudsman
(2) (a) “However, a housing ombudsman under an approved scheme may not investigate or determine any complaint where –
(a) the social landlord has procedures for considering the complaint, and
(b) those procedures have not been exhausted at the time the complaint is made to the ombudsman,”
HFS welcomes the principle behind these elements included in the Bill, and we believe that any New Homes Ombudsman scheme should only cover complaints in relation to a purchaser’s new build home where redress cannot be sought elsewhere. The role and remit of the New Homes Ombudsman needs to be defined in a way that is clear for consumers and we believe this is best achieved by limiting its scope to those areas where a gap in consumer protections has been identified.
In this instance, purchasers of new homes should always in the first case approach their builder; who has a responsibility to address any problems customers have with their home in the first two years of occupation. The new industry code of practice sets clear requirements for builders in terms of the time they must respond to and address problems or complaints. In addition, major warranty providers offer an independent dispute resolution service for cases where a purchaser is not satisfied with their builder’s response to the complaint, as well as covering for the rare events of major structural damage arising.
However, with the current draft bill it would appear this principle only applies to social landlords, but not developers. For ease of clarity for both consumers and developers alike, we believe the procedures around complaints made to an ombudsman should apply to all developers as defined within the draft bill.
The industry has made significant progress in developing a New Homes Ombudsman Scheme and shares the UK Government’s desire to ensure all purchasers of new build homes are afforded the very best of consumer protections. We believe that the New Homes Quality Board, enhanced industry code of practice and industry led ombudsman scheme will address all significant areas where it was believed there were gaps in consumer protection. Given the current pressures facing the entirety of the UK at present and packed legislative agenda, we would strongly encourage the Government to accept the voluntary led scheme which should become operational within the first months of 2021.