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Peer calls for 'sharp teeth' to bite housebuilders who fail on quality

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Councils chief and peer Lord Best has called for an ombudsman with ‘sharp teeth’ to drive up the quality of new house building

Best, a vice-president of the Local Government Association and crossbench member of the House of Lords, said action was needed to boost the standard of new homes. He also said major housebuilders stood accused of using standard designs that were ’unsympathetic to local circumstances’.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment last year announced an inquiry into whether an ombudsman should be brought in to act as a design guardian and boost the satisfaction of new home owners.

Best said at a Lords debate on Thursday: ‘To improve the performance of the major housebuilders … I am hopeful government will progress its interest in creating a new homes ombudsman.

‘Along with a call for improved building control and better on-site supervision, a new homes ombudsman was the key recommendation from the APPG on Excellence and the Built Environment to handle the catalogue of complaints from consumers.

‘This ombudsman, if it is to stand up to the mighty housebuilders, will need sharp teeth and proper resources.’

The mooted role would be in addition to the existing Housing Ombudsman, who is tasked with looking into complaints about housing organisations.

Best told peers that more than 15,000 new home buyers were left dissatisfied with their builders in 2015.

He said the big firms needed to be challenged, saying there were half as many SME housebuilders as there were a decade ago, and their share of the market had plummeted to just 12 per cent.

‘Less than a dozen major housebuilders are responsible for 70 per cent of the nation’s new housing,’ said Best.

Less than a dozen major housebuilders are responsible for 70 per cent of the nation’s new housing

He added: ‘The volume housebuilders are accused of using bog standard, national, pattern book designs unsympathetic to local circumstances; of shoddy workmanship and poor customer care.

‘As a member of the 2016 enquiry by the APPG for Excellence in the Built Environment I was appalled by the tales we heard of defective construction, water cascading through roofs, mould inside and out, inoperative drains and the difficulties encountered getting these problems fixed.

‘We noted that 93 per cent of buyers had problems with their builders, and customer satisfaction has grown to 14 per cent in 2015, leaving 15,500 dissatisfied home buyers that year. Productivity in the industry remains very low with a chronic lack of investment in modern technology or new materials.’

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: ’We’re committed to making sure we build the quality homes this country needs. As the biggest financial investment in our lives, our homes also provide security and so it’s only right that developers and builders are held to a higher standard.

’This government is looking at bold options to improve redress – including whether housing, like other sectors, should have a single ombudsman. It could help drive up standards across the whole industry and increase protections for consumers.

‘Along with industry and local councils, we’ll also be hosting a national housing design conference to raise design quality across the country.’

The Home Builders Federaton has previously insisted that consumers were ‘overwhelmingly happy’ with the service and quality housebuilders offered and pledged that the industry was ’determined to deliver even higher levels’.


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