December update from the New Homes Quality Board

Intro from the Chairman

We are at a pivotal and exciting point in our journey to put in place a new framework to oversee build quality and customer service for new build homes. Today we are very pleased to be able to share with you a final version of our New Homes Quality Code which is the culmination of some five years work.

It is a major achievement to be able to finally publish the Code, and follows on from the appointment of a New Homes Ombudsman partner and now being in a position to start to register developers in the new year. Thank you to everyone who has been involved in this important work to date.

Our ambition remains to put in place arrangements that will deliver a step change in how the industry deals with its customers – in a way that is workable for industry. I firmly believe that the work of the New Homes Quality Board will achieve that objective whilst taking account of the ambitions of the UK Government and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales.

The New Homes Quality Code is absolutely central to our work. Whilst I know implementing the requirements of the new code will present some challenges, we are committed to working with and assisting you to implement it as and when you are ready over the coming year.

Over the coming months we will be asking you to register with the New Homes Quality Board. Once you do, we will provide you with support including on-line staff training modules, brand guidelines, suggested template letter paragraphs to help you meet the requirements of the complaints process and other tools such that you can make the necessary changes within your business to enable you to meet the requirements of the New Homes Quality Code.

Once you have completed your readiness preparations and confirmed you are ready, you can decide to ‘activate’. From the date of activation, any Customer reservations taken will come under the remit of the new code and the NHOS.

Larger companies will be able to ‘activate’ on a regional business basis as and when they feel that those businesses are ready. Whilst we will hopefully see the larger developers starting to activate businesses during Q2 of next year, it will be entirely your decision as to when you do, subject to booking slots with the NHQB team prior to activation.

Customer Reservations taken from the date you activate will then come under the requirements of the new code and the remit of the New Homes Ombudsman Service.

I have no doubt that the coming months will present some challenges. Considering the level of change demanded by Government and the devolved administrations that is inevitable. But I welcome the extremely positive reaction from developers of all sizes to the proposals to date. Please do get involved. Over the coming months all developers will be expected to register so the earlier you do, the more time you have to prepare.

I know a considerable amount of work has already been undertaken by some companies to get themselves ready to meet the new requirements – indeed recent years have seen considerable progress made generally with regards to quality and customer service. By building on that I am convinced we can put in place a framework that ultimately will deliver huge benefits for industry, positioning it much more favorably with all audiences, most crucially its customers.

I hope you find this newsletter useful. Over the coming months we will be issuing regular bulletins to assist you make the transfer across to the new arrangements. In the meantime, if you do have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

Kind regards, 

 

I congratulate the New Homes Quality Board and the Dispute Service on reaching this important step which will help improve redress and quality for consumers. It is essential that homebuyers benefit from independent adjudication at the earliest opportunity, receive the highest of standards of quality and that problems are put right quickly and effectively.”

 

Eddie Hughes MP

Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing

Background

The independent New Homes Quality Board (NHQB) was set up last year to oversee the development of a framework to drive improvements to build quality and customer service. It has built on work started by industry following the publication of the ‘More homes Fewer Complaints’ report by the Excellence in the Built Environment APPG in 2016- that made the establishment of a New Homes Ombudsman its number one recommendation. In 2017, the Government confirmed that they would oversee the establishment of a New Homes Ombudsman to provide redress for dissatisfied customers.

  • To deliver its objectives the NHQB has been pushing forward three main workstreams;
  • Develop a new housebuilding industry code of practice – The New Homes Quality Code – which fills the gaps in existing arrangements.
  • To appoint a New Homes Ombudsman Service.
  • To register all developers of new homes.

Government has always made clear that all the new arrangements will be funded by the industry and the NHOS will be a free to use service for consumers. The arrangements will be paid for via an annual fee on each registered developer based on the size of business and number of new homes built each year.

The intention is to introduce the new arrangements on a UK wide basis and the NHQB has been engaging with the UK Government and officials in the devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland as it has developed its proposals.

The Building Safety Bill that is currently progressing through parliament will provide Government with the tools to put in place a statutory New Homes Ombudsman The decision on how those powers will be used will be a decision for the Secretary of State at the time .

A suite of frequently asked questions has been created to provide more information for developers. This is available in the developer section of the NHQB website.

 

 

Progress in the last few months:

New Homes Quality Code

A draft of the new Code was published earlier this year for public consultation. We received over 250 responses from a wide group of stakeholders and over 400 changes were made to the final version of the Code which is published this month.

We have also published a detailed report summarising how the final version of the Code was reached following the consultation responses we received.

The new Code introduces a broad range of additional requirements for developers which fill the gaps in current protections and ensure that every aspect of a new home purchase is covered.

The Code:

Protects vulnerable customers, prohibits high pressure selling; requires any deposits to be protected.

Requires the developer to provide all relevant information about the home earlier in the sales process – including its tenure and any future management or service charges – to allow them to make an informed decision about the purchase.

Sets out requirements for a fair reservation agreement, including a ‘cooling off’ period; and sales contract requirements.

Allows customers to have a professional carry out a pre-completion inspection on their behalf.

Specifies that a home must be ‘complete’, preventing developers paying customers to move into an incomplete new home early.

Crucially, and to address the biggest gap in the existing arrangements, the Code requires developers to have an effective after care service in place to deal with any issues customers have with their new home; together with a robust complaints process that responds to customers concerns in a timely manner, keeping them informed throughout. If a customer is not satisfied with how any complaint they have made has been dealt with, they can refer their complaint to the independent New Homes Ombudsman Service (NHOS).

The Code will apply to all private customers who reserve their new home from the date their Developer transitions to the new arrangements.

The Code will be accompanied by a separate Glossary of Terms and more detailed Guidance for Developers and will be published in English and Welsh initially with more languages to follow during 2022.

We are working with a partner to develop a Code training module. The module is suitable for all employees but with specific, role-dependent assessments. The module will take around 60 minutes to complete and will be made available to developers when they register with NHQB.

Other materials to help developers ready themselves to operate to the new Code are also being developed and will be made available upon registration. These include:

  • Logos and branding guidelines
  • A full suite of detailed FAQs
  • Templates of various forms
  • Template letters for the new complaints process
  • Template checklists for the Pre-Completion Inspection 

New Homes Ombudsman Service (NHOS)

Following a rigorous procurement process, the preferred partner for the NHOS was confirmed as The Dispute Service.

The NHQB is now engaged with The Dispute Service to support them to develop and operationalise an ombudsman service. The NHQB and The Dispute Service will work with the Ombudsman Association to ensure its developing proposals are in accordance with their requirements and processes.

Alison MacDougall, who is currently the Director of Resolution at The Dispute Service, will become the New Homes Ombudsman on a full-time basis. An experienced adjudicator and ombudsman, she has worked in senior roles at the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education and at the Police Complaints Authority and the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman.

Over the next twelve months all developers will be expected to register with the NHQB, comply with the requirements of the new code and the remit of the NHOS. The NHOS will have the powers to require developers to undertake work or rectification measures and to award compensation.

Learn more

 

Registration

Work is underway on a portal for developers to register with NHQB in the new year.

Recruitment:

Natalie Elphicke, OBE, has been spearheading the design and development of the NHQB’s work as the independent Chair. A search is now underway to identify a permanent independent Chair of the NHQB for its operational phase.

The NHQB is also currently recruiting two more independent Non Executive Directors.

Paul Moore has joined the NHQB as Interim COO and the process to recruit a permanent Managing Director is now underway.

Emma Toms (previously at Barratt Developments) joined as Industry Liaison Director.

Carol Brady from the Consumer Code for Home Builders is working with us to develop the policies and procedures for the NHOS. Carol has significant prior experience in working with ombudsman bodies and in consumer redress.

A major developer has kindly offered one of their Graduates, Monika King, for a three-month secondment to support with Communications. If any other party could support NHQB with a similar secondment, please contact Steve Turner (steve.turner@nhqb.org.uk)

Next Steps

The main actions that are planned for the next couple of months are:

  • Test the Code eLearning module with a mix of industry users.
  • Finalise the development of the developer registration portal.
  • Start to register developers and then work with them to help them get ready to activate.
  • Work with a cross industry working group to finalise the systems, policies and procedures for the NHOS.
  • Work with the Ombudsman Association to get NHOS accreditation underway.
  • Agree transition procedures with the existing Code bodies.
  • Code to be reviewed by the Campaign for Plain English to produce a consumer friendly version

 

Contact us

For more information about the NHQB and its work, please visit www.nhqb.org.uk

Presentations have been undertaken to various developers and stakeholder groups to provide an update on progress. If you would like a presentation – either face to face or via video call, then please contact Emma Toms (emma.toms@nhqb.org.uk).