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Housing: Home Information Packs

Volume 691: debated on Wednesday 9 May 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What immediate reconsideration they are giving to their policy on home information packs in the light of the 18th report from the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee (HL Paper 92).

My Lords, the Government are grateful to the committee for its consideration of home information pack regulations and the regulations giving effect to the European directive on the energy performance of buildings. We have responded in writing to the chairman of the committee and placed further evidence in the Library of the House to show how home information packs, including energy performance certificates, will benefit people buying or selling a home.

My Lords, despite the pages of rebuttal that the department has produced of the report from the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, does the Minister agree that, in the light of the highly critical report on home improvement packs, which cites comments received from organisations representing key interest groups in the housing market as showing at best scepticism and at worst hostility, the Government’s best plan would be to drop this whole proposal now?

No, my Lords, I do not agree with the noble Baroness. We listened to what the committee said in its report and, as I said, we were grateful that we could provide additional and broader evidence to support the case that we have been making all along. Bringing together essential information that consumers need up front at the first point of sale, to help them chose a home, will make the transaction more transparent, more predictable and less stressful. Bringing all that together with the energy performance certificate will make a great positive difference to buying and selling homes.

My Lords, will my noble friend consider moving towards the position that the Act originally intended? Far from getting rid of the pack, we should move towards greater extension. It is popular with people. As the noble Baroness opposite said, it is not popular with some estate agents and others, but their popularity level is similar to that of politicians and journalists, so perhaps we should not put too much emphasis on that. The issue is this: it is good for the environment, it is good for home owners and the majority of the public seem to want it, so let us move towards it, please.

Yes, my Lords, the evidence from our trials shows that home information packs are thought by sellers to be a good thing. Indeed, the polls suggest powerfully in favour of energy performance certificates: YouGov recently said that 71 per cent of people think that energy information is important and they want more information about how to make their homes warmer while reducing costs. This is popular with consumers and so it should be.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that it would be virtually impossible for Parliament to devise a system that is fair to both parties in the context of a real property transaction? One side wishes to have certitude as soon as possible and the other side wishes the matter to be in abeyance until there is an exchange of contracts. The scheme as now devised and considered by Parliament is in fact the worst of all worlds in that it does not require a home conditions report or, indeed, a record of local searches. It is expensive without being satisfying for either party. In the circumstances, should the matter not be prorogued until there is a sufficiency of home inspectors for the matter to be properly supervised?

My Lords, I understand and respect the noble Lord’s legal experience, but I do not think that the system is particularly equal at the moment: it is weighted against the buyer. The average time taken between offer and exchange is longer than it was in 1998. We have the most opaque system in Europe for determining at what stage documents are being collected and where you are in that process. What is the argument against bringing together useful information that tells you what you are buying at the beginning of the process, so that buyers can have a much more certain account of the choice that they are making?

My Lords, the Law Society, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Council of Mortgage Lenders, Trading Standards and the Consumers’ Association are all saying that these packs should be withdrawn because they will not help consumers. Why does the Minister think that the Government know better than this array of organisations?

My Lords, many of the bodies that the noble Baroness cited have been opposed to these changes for a long time. We have listened hard and made changes; for example, the home condition report is now a voluntary element of the pack. We are trialling it to make sure that we understand the impact on the transaction process. We have evidence to suggest that the benefits of bringing together the information that I have described, such as the elusive leases and the energy performance certificates—she will understand how concerned the environmental groups are at the prospect of delay—will make a serious and important difference to the process of buying and selling homes.

My Lords, I can give the House the most recent information because we are in constant touch with the training and assessment centres. That information suggests that nearly 2,000 people have passed their exams and will be accredited shortly, and a further 3,000 are in training. As the increase in demand comes forward, the pool of available assessors will be growing alongside it.

My Lords, has the Minister ever considered what happens in France, where conveyancing is far more efficient and far less costly than it is in the United Kingdom?

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that she will not listen to the various vested interests that are opposing this measure but will move very quickly to making a home improvement pack obligatory on every house sale?

My Lords, I did not say “vested interests”; I was careful in my language. We want to make a success of this, and we will listen carefully to what the noble Lord has said.