Protection for Homebuyers

Part of Treasury Committee – in Westminster Hall at 3:36 pm on 13th December 2018.

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Photo of Heather Wheeler Heather Wheeler Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:36 pm, 13th December 2018

The hon. Lady poses a number of questions, all of which are very interesting. I will reread Hansard after the debate and take on board what I can.

The Government agree that the situation is unfair, so we intend to introduce a new statutory regime and are considering whether freeholders should have a right to change the provider of maintenance services by applying to the tribunal for appointment of a new manager, which may be useful if a freeholder is dissatisfied with the service they are receiving. As it happens, my officials are now analysing the responses and the Government intend to bring forward legislation to implement changes as soon as parliamentary time allows.

We move on to another area in this vast debate, home buying and selling. Around 1 million homes are bought and sold in England each year, but another 25% to 33% of planned sales fall through, costing consumers around £270 million and creating stress for far too many people. The Government published our response to the home buying and selling call for evidence in April 2018, setting out an ambitious programme of action to make the buying and selling process in England cheaper, faster and less stressful, in line with our manifesto commitment. There is no silver bullet that can change everything at a stroke and fix the process. Instead, we will need to make a number of practical changes, some big, some small, which taken together will make the experience much better. To put hon. Members’ minds at rest, we as a Government are here to tackle those issues.

We have already started work. We have created a new working group focusing on the regulation of property agents, chaired by Lord Best. We have begun working with industry and the National Trading Standards estate agency team to develop guidance on making referral fees more transparent and to look at the case for banning them. We have also doubled the funding available to that team. We have written to all local authorities reminding them of the Government’s ambition to have a property search request completed within 10 working days. We have consulted in implementing reforms to the leasehold system, seeking views on fixed timeframes and maximum fees for freeholders and managing agents to provide leasehold information.

We have held workshops with industry to develop detailed and thorough how-to-buy and how-to-sell guides to inform consumers, to be published in 2019. We have started work with industry and consumers to make conveyancing data more transparent so that buyers and sellers can make a more informed choice and we have worked with industry to develop a standardised reservation agreement. We will commission behavioural insight analysis to support its implementation; it will increase commitment between buyers and sellers much earlier in the process. Together, our reforms will create a much better process, which guides buyers and sellers and gives them the information they need at the time they need it, allowing them to make the biggest purchase of their lives with confidence.

I confirm to the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse that I will write to him regarding cladding and sprinklers. My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West kindly brought up the question of VAT on service charges. As he will know, that is a matter for Her Majesty’s Treasury, but it is something that has only recently raised its head, so I will write to him about that.

On bonuses for those larger businesses, we announced in August that we are helping to improve shareholder scrutiny of executive pay, strengthen the employee voice in boardrooms and build confidence in how large companies are run. Under those reforms, all quoted companies will be required to disclose and explain annually the rationale for the chief executive’s pay and the ratio to the average pay of their UK employees. The new reforms will provide greater transparency on the impact of share growth and executive pay.

The Government have been clear that this should be a country that works for everyone. That means building more of the right homes in the right places and ensuring the housing market works for all parts of our community. We must ensure that ordinary people purchasing a new home have the protection they deserve and are treated fairly.