Six and out

What did for HIPs? As the Gov­ern­ment back­tracks fast, Ross Clark spells out how it’s all gone hor­ri­bly wrong…

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - House & Home -

1Slow­down

It be­gan with a promis­ing sen­tence in the Labour Party Man­i­festo of 1997: “We are con­sult­ing on the best way of tack­ling the prob­lems of gazump­ing in the in­ter­ests of re­spon­si­ble home­buy­ers and sell­ers.” By last Tues­day, when Com­mu­ni­ties Sec­re­tary Ruth Kelly an­nounced that the in­tro­duc­tion of Home In­for­ma­tion Packs (HIPs) will be put back from June 1 to Au­gust 1, and only ap­ply to prop­er­ties with four or more bed­rooms un­til fur­ther no­tice, that sim­ple pledge had evolved into a chaotic and hugely un­pop­u­lar piece of leg­is­la­tion that promised to do ex­actly the op­po­site of what it orig­i­nally promised: it threat­ened to slow down the buy­ing and sell­ing process and make gazump­ing all the more likely. 2Ju­di­cial

re­view Few gov­ern­ment poli­cies have suc­ceeded in hu­mil­i­at­ing min­is­ters as ef­fec­tively as HIPs have done. This week’s an­nounce­ment was the sec­ond climbdown: last July Ms Kelly was forced to post­pone in­def­i­nitely plans for HIPs to in­clude a Home Con­di­tion Re­port, or mini sur­vey. But, in truth, the Gov­ern­ment had lit­tle choice but to post­pone HIPs. The Royal In­sti­tu­tion of Char­tered Sur­vey­ors (RICS) is so con­cerned by the im­pli­ca­tions for the hous­ing mar­ket that it has forced a ju­di­cial re­view on En­ergy Per­for­mance Cer­tifi­cates (EPCs), the most con­tro­ver­sial el­e­ment of HIPs. A week ago, it won an in­terim or­der, forc­ing the Gov­ern­ment to de­lay the leg­is­la­tion while the ju­di­cial re­view is con­sid­ered. 3En­ergy

as­ses­sors It was be­com­ing in­creas­ingly clear to the De­part­ment for Com­mu­ni­ties and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment that there would be in­suf­fi­cient “en­ergy as­ses­sors’’ ac­cred­ited be­fore June 1 to en­sure that all house-sell­ers would be able to ob­tain an EPC. Ac­cord­ing to the RICS, 4,000 en­ergy as­ses­sors would have been needed: and yet Ruth Kelly last week ad­mit­ted that a mere 520 have so far been ac­cred­ited.

How many of the 3,200 as­ses­sors who have passed their ex­ams and the 2,500 cur­rently train­ing will hang around is an open ques­tion. If po­ten­tial as­ses­sors are turned away from what had promised to be a lu­cra­tive ca­reer, there is no guar­an­tee that there will ever be enough to make HIPs run smoothly. The Gov­ern­ment has not set a date at which it hopes to ex­tend HIPs to prop­er­ties of three bed­rooms and fewer – and has given up, for the mo­ment, even men­tion­ing Home Con­di­tion Re­ports. 4Strength

of op­po­si­tion The Gov­ern­ment’s em­bar­rass­ment over HIPs has cer­tainly been no vic­tory for the Con­ser­va­tives who, ea­ger not to un­der­mine their green cre­den­tials, have avoided crit­i­cism of EPCs, and con­fined them­selves to rather vague ob­jec­tions to HIPs. Rather, it is a tri­umph for the pro­fes­sional bod­ies that have been con­sis­tently crit­i­cal of the plans over a num­ber of years. When char­tered sur­vey­ors were first in­vited by the Gov­ern­ment to help de­velop HIPs in the late 1990s, it may have seemed as if they would treat it as a huge job-cre­ation scheme. Yet the clearer the plans be­came, the more con­cerned the RICS be­came, cul­mi­nat­ing in its ju­di­cial re­view.

The Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Es­tate Agents op­posed HIPs on the grounds that they would in­ter­fere with the prop­erty mar­ket – in par­tic­u­lar, dis­suade the 20 per cent of sell­ers which it says mar­ket their prop­er­ties “spec­u­la­tively’’, and don’t fi­nally de­cide to move un­til they re­ceive an of­fer on their home. The Coun­cil of Mort­gage Lenders, mean­while, re­peat­edly warned that its mem­bers would not ac­cept Home Con­di­tion Re­ports, and would con­tinue to in­sist on car­ry­ing out their own val­u­a­tions be­fore mak­ing mort­gage of­fers. This fa­tally un­der­mined the orig­i­nal pur­pose of HIPs: to speed up the house-buy­ing process. 5Wob­bly

pur­pose Dur­ing the long in­cu­ba­tion of HIPs, their stated pur­pose has sub­tly changed. There is much less talk now of speed­ing up the home-buy­ing process and rather more about im­prov­ing en­ergy ef­fi­ciency – through EPCs, which grade homes like fridges into bands A to G ac­cord­ing to their en­ergy con­sump­tion and are sup­posed to con­tain use­ful ad­vice for home­buy­ers on how to save money.

Thanks to an EU di­rec­tive, the Gov­ern­ment is obliged to set up a sys­tem for as­sess­ing homes for en­ergy ef­fi­ciency. But there was no obli­ga­tion for the Gov­ern­ment to in­cor­po­rate this into HIPs. 6En­ergy

Per­for­mance Cer­tifi­cates (EPCs) Ev­i­dence has emerged that EPCs in their cur­rent man­i­fes­ta­tion are of lit­tle use when it comes to pe­riod prop­er­ties. Older houses as­sessed for more than one EPC have pro­duced wildly dif­fer­ing re­sults. The re­sult you get de­pends on the as­sump­tions an as­ses­sor puts in, which is why one sup­pos­edly stan­dard­ised pro­ce­dure gives very dif­fer­ent re­sults.

Ut­ter rub­bish: Clark puts the pa­per­work where it be­longs

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