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Home Information Packs

Volume 462: debated on Tuesday 10 July 2007

12. How much her Department and its predecessors have spent on the home information packs programme. (148315)

As we have set out before, over the past three or so years the Government have spent £19.5 million on the development and trials of energy performance certificates and home information packs. Energy certificates could save nearly 1 million tonnes of carbon a year.

The figures do not include the considerable sums spent by assessors, inspectors and businesses on qualifications, training and preparing for the introduction of the HIPs regime. Is it not time that the Government apologised to them for the inept way in which they have handled the issue and the consequent impact on those people’s livelihoods?

We are concerned about the position in which energy assessors find themselves. It was certainly a problem when the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors decided to take a judicial review against energy certificates. However, it applied to energy certificates, not HIPs. We are working with housing associations and local councils to bring forward some early energy certificates in the social rented sector so that we can also help to support some of the energy assessors in advance of 1 August when the programme begins.

Does the Minister share my astonishment and that of Milton Keynes association of home assessors that Tory MPs are trying to pin the blame for the debacle on the Government rather than on themselves? The Milton Keynes inspectors certainly know where the blame lies and were not surprised that none of the Tory MPs whom they contacted even bothered to meet them.

I am sure that that will have been a disappointment to those involved at Milton Keynes. This issue is about providing useful energy information for people’s homes. We already see such information on fridges and washing machines, for example, and it is about time we had it on our homes as well.

Will the Minister admit that the introduction of HIPs was too big a step to take in one go and that she should now go back to the drawing board and see how to make energy performance certificates work? I have a suggestion for her. The European directive requires an energy performance certificate only every 10 years, so the Government should look further into that and similarly require such a certificate only once every 10 years—irrespective of how many times a house is sold within that period.

I am slightly surprised at the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion, because I think it important for people to have up-to-date information. If we want sellers and buyers to take decisions on the basis of information about their homes, the ability for them to do so if it is 10 years out of date—it could refer to fuel prices that are 10 years out of date—is much more limited. It is disappointing that he has decided to back the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ view on the issue. We think it right that there should be more up-to-date information. We have said that we will consult further, but we are clear about the importance of recent information.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will accept that there have been problems with the implementation of HIPs, but I am sure that she will also accept that the principle behind them—namely, that a prospective buyer should have as much information as possible before making an offer—is absolutely right. The major problem with our process of buying and selling houses in this country is the number of offers that are withdrawn because a prospective buyer finds out after making an offer information that they did not know about, but could have known about, before. Will she give a degree of certainty to those involved in the buying and selling process that the Government intend to pursue and go ahead with HIPs based on that principle?

My hon. Friend is right that there is a series of problems with the current way in which homes are bought and sold. In fact, first-time buyers often face the greatest pressures. One of the advantages of the home information packs is that they will provide information for first-time buyers for free that previously they would have had to pay for. We are clear that HIPs and energy performance certificates need to go ahead on 1 August. There are wider issues as well around home buying and selling on which we want to work with a range of stakeholders to improve.

May I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister on her enlarged and elevated position on the Government Front Bench?

She has risen to heights that I am not likely to achieve. That may owe something, of course, to her charm and abilities, but she must concede that it owes nothing to the fact that her Department spent £895,000 in three months marketing a policy, the centrepiece of which has been ditched, in which the latest research by Saga indicates that 50 per cent. of the population has no trust, and which the local authority inspectors who must enforce it say is unenforceable. Will she use her new Cabinet-rank status finally to lay this disaster of a policy to rest?

May I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post and congratulate him on his Front-Bench appointment—[Interruption.] His elevation, indeed. He should, however, think carefully about the position of his Front-Bench colleagues on this matter. They have said that they support measures to improve the environment, but the gap between the rhetoric and the reality is considerable. It is no good having warm words if they are not prepared to back measures to deliver warm homes.

It is on days like these that I really regret that there are not more engineers in the House, simply because, as my hon. Friend will know, the measures on the energy performance certificates and HIPs represent the most significant action that we have taken on the domestic market in terms of energy conservation and improving standards. Will she assure me that having started this process we will continue to monitor it and roll it out completely over the housing stock of this country?

My hon. Friend is right to point out the importance and potential benefits of the programme. It could not only save customers and consumers about £300 a year on their fuel bills, but also save a million tonnes of carbon a year. That is important. It is why we have made it clear that it needs to begin on 1 August and then to be rolled out. We will monitor it. We are setting up a new advisory group, working with stakeholders, including estate agents and Which?, to ensure that the process is as smooth as possible and properly benefits consumers.