The Dispute Service approved to operate New Homes Ombudsman service
Following a rigorous validation process, The Ombudsman Association (OA) has approved the joint application by the New Homes Quality Board (NHQB) and The Dispute Service’s to operate a New Homes Ombudsman service(NHOS).
The independent NHOS forms a central plank of the NHQB’splans to deliver a step change in the quality and customer service provided by house builders and the decision paves the way for its introduction over the coming months.
The NHQB selected The Dispute Service as its preferred partner to establish a NHOS following a lengthy and robust procurement process last Autumn. Since then, The Dispute Service has been working closely with the NHQB to create an open and customer focused service and get the NHOS ready to launch. Part of that process has been to work with the NHQB to get approval from the OA for the new body.
The OA process is rigorous and required the applicant to meet a detailed set of requirements around independence, fairness, effectiveness, openness, and accountability. The Dispute Service, working with the NHQB submitted a comprehensiveapplication that was considered by the OA’s Validation Committee, and after thorough examination approved by the OA Board.
Following the approval, The NHQB has contracted with The Dispute Service and the final preparations are being made to enable the NHOS to go live. It is expected that the first builders will start to come under the remit of the NHOS later this year.
The announcement is the latest in a series of milestone reached by NHQB in recent months including the introduction of a new industry code of practice, the New Homes Quality Code, that puts considerably greater responsibility on developers, which was published before Christmas. This was swiftly followed in January with the first developer registrations with the NHQB. April then saw the appointment of a new top team including CEO Leon Livermore, former CEO of Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), and Rob Brighouse to replace Natalie Elphicke as Chair.
Upon registering with the NHQB, developers are provided with a suite of staff training and supportive material. These enable them to make their final preparations to be able to meet the requirements of the New Homes Quality Code. Once both parties are satisfied the developer is ready, they will ACTIVATE, and from that date, all customers purchasing from them will be protected by and have recourse to the NHOS. The NHQB is working with a range of builders to prepare them to activate in the autumn.
The powerful new independent ombudsman will enforce the New Homes Quality Code, which ensures customers are treated ‘fairly’. The new code puts significantly greater responsibilities on builders for the service they must provide – particularly after a customer moves into a new home and sets very high standards for how complaints must be handled.Customers that are unhappy with their new home or frustrated with the performance of the developer in handling their complaint will be able to ask the NHOS to review their case.
The NHOS will independently consider customers’ cases and rule whether there has been a breach of the New Homes Quality Code, but it will not look retrospectively at cases, only at cases brought by customers who purchased after their builder had activated.
Speaking today, former Chair of the NHQB Natalie Elphicke OBE, who led the work to put the new arrangements in place over the past three years said; “The approval by the Ombudsman Association to operate a new homes ombudsman is a major milestone in the work of the NHQB. The approval moves our plans to deliver a step change in how developers treat their customers a step closer. Over the coming months we will start to see developers registering and working to the powerful new industry code of practise we have created, and their customers having access to robust independent redress should they feel they need it. I am looking forward to homebuyers across the United Kingdom benefitting from quality new homes and better consumer outcomes.”
Rob Brighouse, chair of the NHQB said; “This is a very exciting and significant milestone as we look to put the new arrangements in place. Leon and I are committed to building on the great progress made to date and working with TDS to introduce the new arrangements. Once in place they will deliver significant benefits for consumers and industry alike.”
Alison MacDougall, the New Homes Ombudsman said; “I look forward to working with consumers and registered developers to resolve individual complaints and help improve the experience of homebuyers throughout the journey of buying and moving into their new home.”
Donal Galligan, Chief Executive of the Ombudsman Association, said: “An ombudsman helps drive best practice and service improvements; people should have access to an ombudsman in all areas of consumer and public services. We’re pleased that new build buyers will soon have the same protections and access to independent redress that exist in other areas.”
Steve Harriott, Chief Executive at The Dispute Service: “We have worked hard with the NHQB to develop the NHOS and we will be ready to take our first referrals when developers start to activate their accounts with NHOS over the coming months. We will be spending our time over the coming weeks explaining what we are going to be doing with developers, consumers and others and we expect to get our first referrals in the autumn.
It is expected that the majority of developers, including all larger ones, will be registered with the NHQB by the end of the year and have activated and committed to the new arrangements by the spring of 2023. This means that by that point, the overwhelming majority of new build purchasers will have access to a powerful Ombudsman to take up any issues they may have with developers.
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NOTES TO EDITORS1. 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. 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). 2. Following a rigorous procurement process, in December of 2021 the preferred partner for the NHOS was confirmed as The Dispute Service. 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. 3. The Ombudsman 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.4. The New Homes Quality Code was published to industry a the end of 2021 following a consultation in the summer to which over 250 responses were 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. It;• 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).5. Developers are now being asked to register with the NHQB. Once they do so they are provided with training and support materials to be able them to prepare to adhere to the new requirements. Once both parties are agreed they are ready they will ‘activate’. From that point any customer reserving a new home are covered by the requirements of the New3 Homes Quality Code and have recourse to 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 intention is to introduce the new arrangements ultimately on a UK wide basis and all developers in Great Britain will be expected to register with the NHQB in 2022. 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.7. 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.8. The Ombudsman Association’s criteria are recognised by the UK Government as representing best practice, as reflected in the Cabinet Office’s Guidance for government departments on setting up Ombudsman schemes, and the protection of the term ‘ombudsman’ at Companies House.