The New Homes Quality Board has announced that The Dispute Service has been selected to be the New Homes Ombudsman. The Dispute Service was chosen following a fiercely competitive tendering process. The New Homes Ombudsman will be independent and provide redress for purchasers of new build homes that are not up to scratch.

The announcement means that The Dispute Service is now the preferred partner to develop the independent New Homes Ombudsman Service. The New Homes Ombudsman Service forms a central plank of plans to deliver a step change in the quality of new build homes and the customer service provided by house builders. 

The powerful new independent ombudsman will enforce a new housebuilding industry code of practice – the New Homes Quality Code. The new code puts significantly more responsibilities on builders for the service they must provide – particularly after a customer moves into a new home. The new code also sets very high standards for the handling of complaints. The new code will be published next month, following a full public consultation carried out earlier in the year.

The New Homes Ombudsman Service will come on line in the New Year. Buyers of new build homes who are unhappy with their new home, or frustrated with the performance of the developer in handling their complaint will be able to ask the New Homes Ombudsman to review their case. The New Homes Ombudsman Service will independently consider customers’ cases and rule whether there has been a breach of the New Homes Quality Code.

The Dispute Service beat off tough competition to be selected by the New Homes Quality Board following a thorough tender process lasting over six months. The Dispute Service is best known for its work on government authorised tenancy deposit protection and dispute resolution services across the UK.  It clinched the role by impressing the assessment panel with its forward thinking and customer focussed approach – as well as an impressive track record of establishing new dispute resolution services across the UK in recent years. 

The Ombudsman designate will be Alison MacDougall, who is currently Group Director of Resolution at The Dispute Service where she heads up the team of adjudicators and resolution executives dealing with disputes between landlords and tenants.  Alison has had extensive experience in dispute resolution and ombudsman activities.  She helped to establish the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education where she dealt with student complaints about higher education providers. A law graduate, Alison was also a senior investigator at the Police Complaints Authority dealing with serious complaints; including deaths in police custody, and has also worked at the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman.

 

“Consumers rightly expect new homes to be top quality – and to get great customer service too. The ombudsman will be an independent customer guardian, making sure buyers get proper redress if they’ve been sold a shoddy home or suffer from poor customer service.

“A new home is the biggest purchase most of us will ever make and so it is right that we put the strongest protections in place to protect consumers buying a new home.”

“The ombudsman and the powerful New Homes Quality Code will drive up the quality of new homes and improve the service housebuilders provide to their customers.

“The appointment of the Ombudsman is a major milestone. It comes after a six-month long competitive procurement process that was run on public procurement principles. The Dispute Service proved that it had the necessary skills and experience to deliver an effective, efficient and robust New Homes Ombudsman Service. They have a clear plan to create the powerful independent body that new home buyers deserve.”

Natalie Elphicke OBE

chairman of the NHQB

“The Dispute Service is delighted to have been selected by NHQB to operate the new Homes Ombudsman Service.  We are a not-for-profit company which has its roots in dealing with tenancy deposit disputes and in the last 14 years we have completed over 160,000 adjudications.  In this time we have developed a range of innovative digital solutions designed to make it easier for consumers to raise complaints and for their complaint and supporting evidence to be easily uploaded into our complaints platform, which is accessible to all parties to a dispute.  Through this we have been able to improve the transparency of our adjudication work by ensuring that all parties to a complaint can see the evidence that has been presented to us.  We have also worked hard to increase the number of complaints we resolve through our mediation and conciliation work, leading to speedier outcomes for consumers”.

“Since 2007 we have successfully launched four tenancy deposit and dispute resolution schemes across the UK, developed two mediation and conciliation services, created two charitable organisations and provided a wide range of information and advice to consumers and businesses to better raise standards”.

“We know that there are issues in the new homes industry and we are excited by the opportunity to build a robust and independent redress service for consumers to address their legitimate complaints.  We are also committed to working closely with the NHQB and the industry to roll out the New Homes Quality Code and to play a key part in helping to raise standards in the new build industry across the UK.

“We are hoping to launch the new service in the early part of 2022 and we will be making further announcements over the coming months to ensure that the industry has time to prepare for the launch of our new service.

Professor Martin Partington CBE, QC

the Chair of The Dispute Service

“We are already working hard to get the New Homes Ombudsman Service up and running.  We have significant  experience of starting new services from scratch so I am confident that we will be ready to launch the scheme in  early 2022 and to provide new home buyers with the access to redress that they have been asking for,  We are determined to work closely with both the New Homes Quality Board and the housebuilding industry to make sure that they fully understand our role and that we can play a key part in helping to raise the standards in the industry”.

Steve Harriott

Chief Executive of The Dispute Service

For media enquiries, or to arrange an interview with Natalie Elphicke OBE, please contact: media@nhqb.org.uk

 

NOTES TO EDITORS

  1. The New Homes Quality Board (NHQB) is a not-for-profit independent body with responsibility for developing a new framework to oversee the build quality and the customer service provided by developers of new build homes. Based on the principles of independence, transparency and integrity, its objectives are to deliver a consistently high standard of new home quality and service, and to strengthen complaints handling and redress for purchasers of new-build homes where these high standards are not achieved. Under the leadership of the independent chair Natalie Elphicke OBE an interim board was established in May 2020 and the not for profit organisation and board was formally constituted as a legal entity in February 2021. (Registered company 131160638).  An interim Chief Operating Officer has been appointed, and a recruitment process is now underway to recruit a permanent Independent Chair and Chief Executive alongside additional independent non-executive board directors.

  2. The Dispute Service Ltd [registered company04851694] is a not for profit company limited by guarantee which was formed in 2003. Its core business has been the handling of tenancy deposit disputes relating to the four tenancy deposit protection schemes it has established, under government authorised contracts, in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It has created two charitable organisations which aim to raise standards in the private rented sector.  It also operates two mediation and conciliation schemes designed to help resolve in tenancy disputes between landlords and tenants as an alternative to Court action. It holds the government backed Customer Service Excellence Award and  the BSI accreditation of ISO 10002 for Customer Satisfaction in Complaint Handling.  It is a full Complaint Handler member of the Ombudsman Association, the body that will need to validate the New Homes Ombudsman Service.

  3. The NHQB will now engage with The Dispute Service as an Innovation Partner and work with and 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.

  4. 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 student ombudsman body [the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education] and at the Police Complaints Authority and the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman.

  5. 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. Ultimately, the NHQB will, including based on decisions issued by the Ombudsman, have the powers to de-register developers

  6. The NHQB has worked with a broad range of stakeholders, including the UK Government and the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales, consumers, professional bodies and others to develop its proposals. The ambition is that the new framework, including the NHOS, can be applied across the UK so providing greatly enhanced and consistent consumer protection.

  7. The New Homes Quality Code is currently being finalised following a full public consultation earlier this year. The Code will be published next month and introduces a broad range of additional requirements for developers. These aim to fill the gaps in current protections and ensure that every aspect of a new home purchase, from when a customer walks into a sales office, through to two years after the purchase of the home is covered. The Code:
    • Protects vulnerable customers, prohibits high pressure selling; requires any deposits the customer pays to their builder to be protected.
    • Requires the developer to provide all relevant information about the home during the sales process – including its tenure and any future management or service charges – that allows them to make an informed decision about their 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 of their home on their behalf.
    • Specifies that a home must be ‘complete’, preventing builders paying customers to move into a new home early.
    • Crucially, and to address the biggest gap in the existing arrangements, the New Homes Quality Code requires builders to have an effective after care service in place to deal with any issues or ‘snagging’ problems customers have with their new home; together with a robust complaints process that responds to customers concerns in a timely manner and to their satisfaction, 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
  1. The consultation on the New Homes Quality Code received over 250 responses from consumers and a wide variety of stakeholders. These have resulted in over 400 detailed changes to the version of the code that was consulted on. The final version will be issued alongside areas raised in the public consultation on which the New Homes Quality Board will carry out further work over the coming year, including on retentions. The New Homes Ombudsman will also be working with other industry ombudsman to ensure consumers are signposted to the right avenue of redress quickly and easily.