5th October 2018

Championing consumers: the role of the New Homes Ombudsman

This week James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, has announced that a New Homes Ombudsman is to be created.

He said this will ‘champion homebuyers, protect their interests and hold developers to account’.

Importantly, the new homes ombudsman will be enshrined in statute, with legislation requiring all ‘new developers’ to belong to this new ombudsman.

As we know, a home is the biggest purchase many of us will make in our lives. The fact that there has been so little consumer protection attached to the purchase of new homes has needed addressing for some time. As I said in a previous blog some time ago, it seems extraordinary that there are fewer statutory consumer protections for buyers of new houses than buyers of the £30 kettle used to make the first cup of tea. How can it be that with the average price of a new home in the region of £270,000 the buyer is at the mercy of the goodwill of the builder or its insurances?

You only have to read the daily tabloids to see evidence of this and the underlying issue is in the quality that housebuilders provide; good quality costs, poor quality costs more.

However, it must be mentioned that what cannot be quantified is the disappointment, anguish and frustration suffered by new home buyers when dealing with the issues between the developer, contractor, subcontractor(s) and the insurer over faults and defects that could have been avoided.

Although the classic ‘the devil’s in the detail’ phase applies, with the commitment to a new homes ombudsman the government has taken a significant step in offering greater consumer protection and improving the build quality of new homes. It is an opportunity for housebuilders to adopt a ‘get it right first time’ attitude. With this, we all win; buyers get good quality homes, the industry gets the capacity to build more and the opportunity to restore its reputation.

Support for the new homes ombudsman is strong and the government must now work with consumers, industry and professional bodies to develop its proposals. Indeed, they have an excellent starting point on how such an ombudsman could work in the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Excellence in the Built Environment’s better redress for homebuyers report published in June.

What’s clear is that this could be a significant and meaningful change to help address the industry’s culture, driving up standards and professionalism across the sector.