Helping UK new home buyers
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The Consumer Code for Home Builders was launched in April 2010. According to the Code’s authors, the Code was "developed following recommendations of the Barker Review of 2004 and the Office of Fair Trading Market Study of Home Building in the UK published in October 2008." Barker recommendation 32 stated that the "house building industry must demonstrate increased levels of customer satisfaction" and required the Home Builders Federation to "develop a code of conduct by the end of 2004 for new house sales."
What UK new home buyers ended up with was the Consumer Code and the Home Builders Federation (HBF) Customer Satisfaction Survey. The Consumer Code is the house building industry's response to the issues raised in those reports relating to customer service and satisfaction. It was created by a "group of stakeholders within the industry" who "joined forces to consider the issues raised" to "produce a Code of Conduct for home builders."
It was first launched in April 2010, over FIVE YEARS beyond Barker's deadline!
New consumer protection regulations came onto the statute on 26 May 2008. The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 made it a legal requirement to treat consumers fairly and The Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 reinforces the legal requirement not to make misleading or false statements when conducting business such as selling new homes. Any breaches of these regulations can result in criminal enforcement action, an unlimited fine and up to two years' imprisonment on conviction in the Crown Court. The government intends to repeal the Property Misdescriptions Act 1992, which has largely been superseded by the new consumer protection regulations.
It is more likely that the house building industry's main motivation for producing a Consumer Code was the new 2008 consumer legislation rather than the recommendations in the Barker review. Here is the OFT guidance for businesses selling homes. It is unbelievable that the industry could use compliance of this legislation as a self-promoting marketing opportunity!
Ensure you get a copy of the Code and READ IT BEFORE RESERVING a new home.
Code requirement 1.2: states house builders are "required to display the Code and give, without charge, a copy to any customers who ask for it and to every buyer reserving a home."
The Consumer Code says it is a "voluntary industry code that is led and run by the industry." Since the Code was launched, around 16,000 house builders registered with the NHBC, Premier Guarantee or LABC Warranty must comply with the Code and its requirements. Failure to do so can result in exclusion from all registers run by the home warranty bodies that participate in the scheme, effectively making homes they build un-mortgageable.
The Code's summarises its objectives to ensure home buyers:
The Code comprises of 19 requirements that home builders must meet in the marketing and selling of their homes and with their after-sales customer service.
The Code applies to complaints arising and made within the first two years from the start date of the home warranty cover of the new home. Buyers can use the independent resolution service if they believe their builder has failed to meet the requirements of the Code.
Claims cannot be made for:
The Code's Annual report for 2011 it stated "more than 2000 builders received training" on Code compliance, including all the major house-builders accounting for the majority of new homes built in the UK.
The 2011 report also claimed that approximately 100,000* (*based on the number of warranty registrations) new home buyers have "benefited from the Code", with just one case going through the full adjudication process. This case being found in favour of the homeowner. In the Code's Annual report for 2012, the number of new cases adjudicated jumped to 13, demonstrating that a lack of disputed cases probably due to new home buyers being unaware of the Code and how to raise a complaint using the Dispute Resolution Scheme. The Code's Annual Report for 2013 again showed a surprisingly small number of new claims from buyers.
Be aware of "Reservation Checklists" and do not sign them unless you are completely clear what you are signing for and agreeing to. Check that all plans and specifications noted on the form also refer to the current revision number or letter. Make sure that any changes, agreements and clarifications made by the builder or their representative are also recorded on this form! Trust no one and be sure to take a copy of the form away with you after signing.
In adjudication disputes, reservation checklists have been used by house builder's as evidence to dismiss house buyers' claims they were mis-sold or given incorrect information. You are signing to confirm that you "have inspected the approved plans and specifications." Take your time, carefully look at everything and make a note of what is said. One case regarding the proximity of Social Housing was dismissed because it was shown on site plans, even though omitted from the actual sales brochure!
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