In recent times, the plight of new home buyers in the UK has come under sharp scrutiny, with homeowners often finding themselves at the receiving end of inadequate consumer protection laws. The HomeOwners Association (HOA) is spearheading a campaign to bring about crucial reforms, highlighting the grim reality faced by many buyers through a recent case covered by BBC’s Rip-Off Britain.
The spotlight fell on Daniel Bruce and his neighbours, residents of a new apartment building in Camden acquired in 2019. What was supposed to be a dream investment soon turned into a nightmare as they discovered structural defects in their new homes. The condition was so dire that independent surveyors have recommended the demolition of the entire building. Despite their plight being made public, three months down the line, no redress has been provided to the aggrieved homeowners.
The Secretary of State for Housing, Michael Gove, acknowledged the pressing issue during a programme aired in July. He compared the existing consumer protection laws in the real estate sector to those for buying washing machines, implying a greater protection for the latter. However, the HomeOwners Association finds Mr. Gove’s response unsatisfactory, given his significant authority to instigate change in building quality standards and consumer protection frameworks.
In April 2022, the government passed legislation for a New Homes Ombudsman Scheme to enhance consumer redress. Yet, there’s no indication of the statutory scheme being implemented. The situation is further exacerbated by the emergence of multiple new build redress schemes that only add to the confusion.
One of the key issues pinpointed by the HomeOwners Association is the lack of accountability when claims arise concerning new build warranties. In Daniel Bruce’s case, the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) shifted the responsibility to the freeholder, thereby exonerating the warranty provider, Acasta, from the unreasonable delay in addressing the claim. The association has contacted FOS for clarity but hasn’t received any response yet, raising questions about FOS’s efficacy in dealing with new build insurance claims.
Paula Higgins, CEO of HomeOwners Association, expressed her frustration over the lack of progress despite a decade of campaigning for better new build standards. She endorsed the Labour’s ‘build build build’ pledge but stressed the urgency to bolster consumer protection to break the vicious cycle of ‘nightmare new build stories’.
The HOA is urging for the inclusion of new home purchases under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which currently does not cover contracts between housebuilders and buyers. Extending this legislation would empower homeowners to demand repairs or refunds if their new homes are found to be of unsatisfactory quality, unfit for purpose or not as advertised. This change could herald a new era of accountability in the housing industry, ensuring that the rights of new home buyers are not relegated to the back burner.