As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing said in response to a written question from the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), we intend to evaluate the effectiveness of HIPs by updating the HIP baseline research report, which was published in January 2007. A copy of that report is available on the DCLG website.
Whatever methodology the Department intends to use, is the Minister aware that Southend estate agents, without exception, believe that although HIPs may have been introduced with the best of intentions, in practice they have not worked out at all well and have damaged the housing market?
I do not accept that at all. Despite a difficult housing market, evidence shows that HIPs actually speed up sales. I am not sure whether there is a branch of Connells estate agency in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but its survey of more than 37,000 transactions showed that sales with HIPs go through an average of seven days quicker.
Why is the Minister in total denial? Nobody whatever thinks that HIPs work, and it would be sensible for the Government to knock them on the head before the election rather than have that albatross around their neck. For our part we are delighted that they are not doing so, but it is in his interests that he should.
As always, I am very grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s advice, but I can tell him that thousands of jobs and hundreds of small businesses depend on the HIP process and 13,000 people have invested thousands of pounds in training as energy assessors. The Opposition need to explain why they want to put all those jobs and businesses at risk. He needs to tell all the people in his constituency whose livelihoods depend on the process why the Opposition want to put them out of work.
The interim results of the updated baseline research report are not due to be published until this summer at the earliest. Given that no empirical evidence is therefore available to the Government about the impact of HIPs on the current housing market, why do they not listen to bodies such as the Law Society, which has said clearly that HIPs
“add a significant layer of costs for consumers but produce no discernable benefit”?
As a result of HIPs, more than 2 million home owners now have an energy assessment and recommendations in their energy performance certificate that can help them cut their fuel bills by hundreds of pounds and reduce carbon emissions. That is just one of the many benefits of the HIP process that we have introduced. I thought that tackling climate change was one of the big priorities for the new, modern Conservative party. So much, I suppose, for voting blue to go green.
I have to tell my hon. Friend that as a member of the Law Society of England and Wales, I tend to agree with it. We have to have energy performance certificates under European Union law anyway, and we would have the jobs because of that. Does he really think that for most people, a cost of more than £500 to save an average of seven days, according to the Connells survey, is money well spent? A lot of my constituents do not.
Obviously, I am very grateful to my constituency neighbour for his intervention on this issue. He is a great man, he really is.
The recent Office of Fair Trading consumer research on the HIP process showed that a third of buyers were influenced by the HIP and that they had found the new property information questionnaire the most useful component of it. As I said earlier, Connells estate agents surveyed 37,000 transactions and showed that HIPs sped up the process, which is good news.
Parliamentary questions have compelled Ministers to publish opinion research on HIPs done at a cost of £60,000. The survey of 4,000 buyers, sellers and estate agents showed, among other things, that there was minimal public knowledge of and interest in HIPs, that people considered them a waste of time, that buyers were not consulting them and that costs were being duplicated. When will the Government admit that their £500 million experiment has been a disaster, listen to consumers and scrap this discredited scheme?
As I said a short while ago, what the research actually shows is that in a short period, nine out of 10 buyers used the HIP. One in three said that it helped them decide which home to buy, which is a big improvement on the figures shortly after the introduction of HIPs, and shows that the system is becoming more helpful and useful all the time. The question that the hon. Gentleman and other Conservative Front Benchers must answer is why they want to sling out of work the thousands of people who have invested time and money in training to implement the process, and to cut the jobs of their constituents who depend on it.