Imagine you’ve just bought a new home. After months of waiting and a great deal of expense, you finally get the keys and move in, only to discover a number of serious defects – things like uneven floors; exposed nails; unfinished electrics; waterlogged gardens; problems with sinks, walls and fixtures. You contact the building company, expecting them to rectify these problems swiftly so you can start enjoying your new home. But their customer service falls woefully short of what you expect – calls go unanswered, builders don’t show up when they are supposed to and the measures proposed are shoddy sticking-plaster solutions which will not resolve the underlying issues. You check your warranty only to find that the problems you have encountered are not covered. So you are stuck, with a faulty home, a building company refusing to make good on the repairs and nothing you can do about it.
This is the situation in which thousands of people buying new-build homes across the country find themselves in today. Buying a house is the biggest, most important purchase most of us will ever make. But house purchasing is one of areas the least protected by consumer legislation. Property is exempt from the Sale and Supply of Goods Act, meaning that if it fails to live up to expectations, there’s no right to reject it and demand a refund. As the HomeOwners Alliance reports, you get less protection buying a house than you do when you buy a toaster.
These issues are compounded by the appalling customer service that homebuyers experience when they try to have the defects remedied. My constituents in Woodsend, Urmston moved into new Persimmon homes only to find serious defects, including a toilet that was flushing boiling water and a front door that couldn’t be closed. Their complaints to Persimmon went unheeded. Lisa, my constituent, waited a year and a half before Persimmon even gave her a named customer service contact – though the company did find time to pay its then chief executive a £75million bonus. I wrote to the company on my constituents’ behalf, and was staggered to be told that it wasn’t Persimmon’s policy to deal with MPs. But they weren’t responding to the homeowners either. When I raised these issues in the Commons Chamber I quickly realised this was an issue affecting people in almost every constituency, and many different developers, and my posts on social media resulted in my office being inundated with messages and emails of unhappy homebuyers stuck with defective properties and nowhere to turn.
What should the Government do to better protect Lisa and the thousands of others like her? Earlier this year the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced its intention to introduce a New Homes Ombudsman. That’s a positive step, but as yet we have no detail or timescale as to how it’s to be implemented. Meanwhile, the industry claims it is getting its own house in order, streamlining codes of conduct and standardising warranties.
That’s all well and good, but it’s clear there’s been a total collapse in consumer protections and consumer confidence. That’s why, tomorrow, I will be introducing a debate in Parliament to call for the Government to go much further to restore trust in the sector. The HomeOwners Alliance has called for a number of measures that would significantly help to improve the situation for homebuyers. These include a ‘snagging retention’ so that new build homebuyers retain 2.5% of the cost of the house, which would only be paid after 6 months (at the end of the defects period) if the defects have been corrected, as well as the right for homebuyers to inspect their new home before moving in and with the option to bring a surveyor with them.
In today’s debate, I will be calling on the Government to consider introducing these and other measures. It’s high time we took action to protect our constituents from seeing their dream home turn into a nightmare.
This blog appeared on the Politics Home website ahead of Kate’s debate on protection for homeowners on Thursday 13 December 2018. You can view it here.