Home information packs are proving to be fast to produce, and are providing the market with important early information. They have already proved a trigger to cuts in search costs. Estate agents have encouraged people to market early, in advance of HIPs, with predictable short-term impacts on the timing of listings. However, the overall market is currently affected by wider factors, such as attitudes to interest rates and uncertainty in the financial markets.
Does the Minister not see that home information packs have harmed the housing market, and does she not realise that inspectors, whom she promised would earn up to £70,000 a year, will be lucky if they take home £10,000 this year? Are we not right to say that, when we return to office, we will scrap this ridiculous scheme?
No, the right hon. Gentleman is not right. HIPs are already having an impact on search costs, for example. More than 80 local authorities have cut the cost of searches as a result of HIPs’ introduction, some by more than £100. The right hon. Gentleman should admit to energy assessors and home inspectors across the country that his party’s policy would put them all out of work, because he would abolish energy certificates altogether.
Research carried out by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has found a direct link between the introduction of home information packs and the reduction in new instructions by a staggering 37 per cent. Is this the Minister’s idea of bringing about stability in the housing market?
Shock news! The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors opposes home information packs! It has been opposing HIPs and trying to block the introduction of energy certificates for a long time. It even introduced a court case to try to block them, which is tragic, because energy certificates are hugely important and provide vital information for people across the market. We know that new listings have been falling across the market since June—long before HIPs were introduced—and that there are other factors. For example and as most commentators would point out, buyers’ decisions are perhaps currently the most significant factor in the market.
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has had a chance to see this afternoon’s Evening Standard, which contains an article stating that Conservative Front Benchers have written to the Department’s permanent secretary giving
“formal notice that”
“project faces cancellation under the Tories.”
Will my right hon. Friend instruct the permanent secretary to keep that letter in safe keeping, so that we can bring it out when the Tories make a U-turn on this very good policy?
My hon. Friend can rest assured that the permanent secretary will be able to keep that letter in a drawer for a very long time indeed. Opposition Members should consider that, by opposing EPCs, they are opposing a measure about which Friends of the Earth has said that
“without them, there is absolutely no hope of making significant progress on low-carbon homes and tackling climate change.”
EPCs are about providing important information to help consumers cut fuel bills and carbon emissions. They are something that we should support, not oppose in the way that Opposition Members are trying to do.
Contrary to the vision of housing Armageddon that the Opposition predicted when HIPs were introduced, does not my right hon. Friend agree that we have seen no discernible impact on new properties coming on to the market? They have been introduced at a third of the cost, and without the lengthy delays caused by the shortage of inspectors predicted by the Opposition. Given the successful implementation of HIPs for three and four-bedroom properties, will my right hon. Friend consider how quickly she can introduce them for one and two-bedroom properties, as that would be a real help for first-time buyers? Will she also give further consideration to bringing in compulsory home condition reports, as they would make HIPs more effective in the future?
My hon. Friend makes some important points. We are working with a range of stakeholders in the industry, including Which?, about what the next steps should be. For example, we are looking at promoting e-conveyancing as part of our consideration of the wider issues to do with the buying and selling of homes. Back in May, we identified key issues to do with the number of inspectors in place, the impact of HIPs on the market, and how they could be implemented smoothly, and we will take a sensible decision about the timing of the roll-out in the light of those factors.
As yesterday’s Hansard shows, the Minister has been forced to admit that a mere 4 per cent. of those who have ordered HIPs have also ordered the optional home condition report. Is it not about time, therefore, that she came to the same conclusion as the public and scrapped HIPs in favour of the simple EPC system that operates in Northern Ireland?
May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that EPCs have not been introduced in Northern Ireland? In fact, the Administration there are learning from our experience and from the measures that we have taken. Moreover, people in Northern Ireland will not benefit from the reduction in search costs already evident across the market here as a result of the introduction of HIPs.
Opposition Members sound a bit like Chicken Licken in their belief that the sky is always falling. They said that HIPs would cost £1,000, take months to produce and increase council tax, but all of that has turned out be barmy nonsense. We need a sensible debate about how we take forward improvements to home buying and selling but, unfortunately, Opposition Members remain incapable of taking part in it.
May I urge my right hon. Friend to look at what is happening in Denmark? In the UK, and especially in England and Wales, it takes something like 12 weeks to exchange contracts, and a third of transactions fall through. In contrast, the introduction in Denmark of the equivalent of HIPs caused the time for contract exchange to fall to seven days and reduced to almost zero the proportion of contracts falling through.
My hon. Friend is right. Denmark was one of the first countries to introduce EPCs and HIPs, with the result that there have been very substantial improvements to the process of buying and selling homes there. We should learn from other countries’ experiences and recognise the benefits that such reforms can bring to that process.