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Housing: Home Information Packs

Volume 692: debated on Tuesday 22 May 2007

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend Ruth Kelly. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, I would like to update the House on the Government’s proposals for the implementation of home information packs. It had been the Government’s intention to implement home information packs, including energy performance certificates, on 1 June. In debate last week, reference was made to the judicial review requested by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. This judicial review focused on energy performance certificates, not home information packs. On Wednesday, the judge issued an interim order which was received by my department on Thursday. That order would have effectively prevented the introduction of energy performance certificates on 1 June while the case was being considered. The Government believe that introducing home information packs without energy performance certificates would be neither practical nor acceptable. It is important to introduce energy performance certificates and home information packs at the same time because cutting carbon emissions should go hand in hand with market transformation.

“We have been in detailed discussion with RICS to prevent lengthy legal delays. The Government and RICS are committed to the swift and smooth introduction of both home information packs and energy performance certificates. I am pleased that we have today reached a pragmatic way forward that gives certainty and allows us to get on with implementation. As a result, we are proposing to withdraw the Home Information Pack Regulations to clear the way for successful implementation of revised arrangements. Although the issue of the judicial review is now resolved, long-running uncertainty has already had an impact on the number of energy assessors. For implementation on 1 June, we would need at least 2,000 to be accredited, with over 2,500 by the end of the month.

“Today, I am updating the House with the latest figures. There are more than 2,500 people currently in training. A further 3,200 have already passed their home inspector or domestic energy assessor exams. Of those, 1,500 have been accredited or have applied for accreditation, but only 520 of them have been fully accredited. These figures show that the number of assessors is unlikely to meet our needs in time for implementation on 1 June. Equally, they show that, in the long term, there will be enough assessors to meet demand.

“The Government remain convinced of the importance of home information packs and energy performance certificates. Home information packs will cut costs and delays in buying homes. Energy performance certificates will help reduce energy bills and cut carbon emissions from our homes, which, as they make up 27 per cent of our national carbon emissions, could make a big difference in our effort to tackle climate change. The measures in energy performance certificates will cut carbon emissions by nearly 1 million tonnes every year.

“I have always said that the right test of the legislation should be how it brings benefits for the consumers and how it protects the environment. Today, therefore, I am setting out a practical way forward. I propose to change the start date for home information packs to 1 August and intend to phase their introduction. From 1 August, home information packs, including energy performance certificates, will be required for the sale of four-bedroom properties and larger. These are the properties where there is the greatest potential to make energy efficiency savings. This will ensure work for those energy assessors who have already been trained and accredited. We will extend the requirement to smaller properties as rapidly as possible, as sufficient energy assessors become ready to work. As we see the number of accredited assessors rise, so more properties will be included in the system.

“We are also introducing a number of transitional measures. First, until the end of the year, we propose to allow people to market their properties as soon as they have commissioned a pack rather than make them wait until they have received it to avoid unnecessary delays when the systems are introduced. Secondly, to allow energy performance certificates to be implemented at the earliest opportunity, we will make amendments to allow energy performance certificates to be up to 12 months old when the property is put up for sale, extending the current three-month limit. Thirdly, we are inviting councils and registered social landlords to work with us to introduce energy performance certificates on a voluntary basis in social housing; for example, at the time of stock transfers. This will also provide work for energy assessors at an early opportunity. I will shortly bring forward revised regulations to implement the changes that I have outlined.

“Towards the end of the year, we will assess the implementation of home information packs and consider what further steps might be needed to maximise the reduction in carbon emissions and drive forward the reform of home buying and selling. This assessment will be informed by the operation of the market from 1 August, by the results of the area trials and by further consultation on the next steps in implementing home information packs and energy performance certificates, which we will begin in the summer.

“The approach that I have set out gives clarity to everyone about the next steps. It delivers home information packs and energy performance certificates. It removes uncertainty for energy assessors and others, and ensures a smooth transition for people buying and selling their property. Most importantly, it provides an opportunity to make real progress towards cutting carbon emissions from our homes”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Oh dear, my Lords, oh dear. One can have only the deepest sympathy for the hapless Minister required by the obduracy and incompetence of her predecessors in this House and the other place to have to make such a Statement at the 59th minute of the 11th hour before a humiliating defeat in this place. Despite this Statement, I intend to carry on and move the Motion on the Order Paper so that the House will have an opportunity to discuss this issue at greater length than this debate allows.

Is the Minister aware that while the Statement claims to have delivered clarity, it has, in fact, merely thickened the cloud of confusion, incompetence and chaos surrounding home information packs and energy performance certificates? The House will have the greatest sympathy for the Minister, sent into bat by others with a text that even the kindest would regard with scorn and derision. It is no fault of hers and the House well understands that, but will she accept that this must be one of the most shameful episodes in public administration ever to come before this Parliament? Not only the Secretary of State but the Permanent Secretary should reflect on this appalling performance.

The Minister, because she is an honourable Minister, must be blushing at the Government’s created shambles over this whole issue. Will she inform noble Lords why Her Majesty's Government have pressed ahead with a scheme which everybody who knows anything about the housing market was telling them was not workable? Indeed, the Government have been told in this and the other House for years that it was not workable.

Further to the questions asked in Question Time today by my noble friend Lady Gardner, will the Minister inform us when sufficient assessors will be trained and accredited to carry out the energy performance certificates? Does the Minister recall that the previous shambles of the home condition reports having to be abandoned was also because there was an inadequate number of inspectors available to carry them out? For how long has the department been aware that there were insufficient numbers and for how long has it declined to inform the House and the public properly of this matter? It has been asked the question repeatedly and promises and assertions were always made that plenty were in training, but that is now a hollow statement.

The Government have announced that they are going to delay the introduction of home information packs until 1 August. That is eight weeks away. Will the Minister say when the new regulations will be laid, when we will have sight of the result of the pilots which have taken place and whether they are aware that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is still pursuing the judicial review?

We must all be grateful for the serious and considered judgment handed down by Justice Collins today. But why, when the Government had 10 years to get this right, has it taken the intervention of a High Court judge to finally bring a stop, if only temporarily, to what has been an unbelievable mess?

Justice Collins’s intervention will, I hope, protect home buyers and the house market for the time being. Why did the Government not pay more attention to the crucial report of this House’s Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, which demonstrated that the policy was not fit for implementation? While the present stay has come about as a result of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors seeking judicial review, the Minister must be aware of the extreme hostility there has been to the introduction of these packs from both consumers and the housing industry.

The Government’s only defence for the emasculated home information packs has been the inclusion of the energy performance certificate. Housing information packs without either the home condition report or the energy performance certificate are now nothing more than an empty packet. Tackling climate change and helping first-time buyers have been relegated to the afterthoughts in this entire process. It is clear that today’s delaying tactics are nothing more than a botched attempt to minimise the Government’s embarrassment over yet another U-turn.

Whatever the spin, we all know the truth. The housing information pack saga has been a model of how not to do government. HIPs are unnecessary, ill designed to address the problem they claimed to address, badly planned, badly timed, badly executed and, incredibly, not even ready for implementation after three years of legislation and more years of planning. Can there ever have been such a fiasco from the department? Home information packs as now conceived were a tax on home owners which offered no help to home buyers and would have frozen the market just when it needed liberating.

Would it not now be better just to bury this whole issue quietly and to bury it deep? Will the Minister accept that this House has been right all along on this matter? Noble Lords were right in 2004 when they rejected the idea by a majority of 47, but the Deputy Prime Minister insisted on reimposing it. This House was right in resisting the original regulations. The outstanding report produced by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, who is in his place, and the Merits Committee was right and they deserve congratulations.

Is this climbdown not a major vindication for this House and its right to vote against regulations, and a major humiliation for the Government? Will the Minister confirm that in future the Government will conform with recommendations of the Merits Committee, and do so with less foot-dragging and much better grace? Will she take back the message from this House that this ill conceived plan should never again see the light of day?

My Lords, one can but sympathise with the Minister who is having to defend the indefensible. Last week the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors launched a judicial review. It was an unprecedented move, which it did not take lightly. It took it in the end in desperation because it simply could not get anyone in government to listen to it. Today, Sir Andrew Collins has agreed that there is an arguable case and that the RICS could not have moved any sooner than it did. Because we cannot have a hearing before 1 June, the stop-gap was to go ahead with home information packs without the energy performance certificates. It really begs the question what on Earth would be left inside the HIP. Householders would be left paying to hand over an empty folder. The solution now is to postpone the whole thing for two months. That means that we shall have another set of hastily scribbled regulations, which will have to come to this House in the next six weeks if there is to be any parliamentary scrutiny of them at all before the recess. It is simply not good enough.

The Government started looking at changes to house purchase 10 years ago. Seven years ago they brought forward legislation which introduced the home information packs. The practical objections from all sides of the industry, particularly the Law Society, led these Benches to oppose the measure. The Government ignored the advice they received and ploughed on anyway. It took them two years to bring forward regulations and, at the last minute, under pressure from an industry that knew that it could not deliver what it was being asked to deliver, they removed the home condition survey—the most important part of the pack. Since then, there has been a whole year in which the Government have continued to ignore the advice that they have been given, until they have been forced to make this ignominious U-turn today. They have finally admitted that they do not have sufficient energy assessors—after months of questions from noble Lords in this House and after months of assuring us that there were enough. Why has it taken a judicial review finally to reach the truth of this matter?

In her Statement, the Minister said that this will bring clarity. It is difficult to see how. We are going to start with four-bedroom houses. For the next two months, people will be converting bedrooms into studies at a rate of knots. My noble friend Lord Shutt wants to know whether the room that contains his model railway will be classed as a bedroom if he puts his house on the market. I am afraid that I am unable to tell him. We will have to wait to see whether the regulations include a model railway clause.

We are now told that social housing is to be included at the point of stock transfer and will apply regardless of where the stock transfer is taking place and how many houses are involved. Stock transfers involving many hundreds of homes could take place in areas where there are no surveyors—but we do not know, because that has not been thought about.

How much faith can we, the industry, or the public have in a solution that has, by the Government’s own admission, been cobbled together over the past few days? Individuals out there have paid to become accredited home condition surveyors. When the surveys were pulled, they had wasted their money. They then paid to become accredited energy performance surveyors, but now the future of those is in doubt, too. We must retain some form of energy performance certificates, because EU legislation demands them and, in any event, the climate change agenda demands that we take steps to reduce domestic energy emissions. Where will the assessors come from now that they have had their fingers badly burned by the Government’s mishandling of this matter?

Another measure that we are told will be taken is first-day marketing. In other words, you can put your house on the market without having a pack in place. We proposed that measure when the Bill was going through and we were given all sorts of reasons by the Government why it would not work. Four years later, we suddenly find that that is the answer. If this matter was not so serious, it would be laughable and it brings a new meaning to the expression, “Whitehall farce”.

The most important asset owned by anyone is their home. Whatever the shortcomings of the previous system, at least the uncertainties were well understood and could, to an extent, be planned for. As a result of the Government’s bungling, the system is in tatters. Neither the industry nor households have any idea what is coming next. It takes a staggering degree of incompetence to end up with no policy and every single interest group opposed to you—but the Government have managed it.

My Lords, I suppose that I should be grateful for sympathy, but I have no problem in defending the Government’s policy, which is certainly not in tatters. We have spelt out exactly where we are going and the reaction this afternoon highlights some of our problems in trying to keep the confidence of the market in assessors, which has been very much at the forefront of our minds as we have made our decisions in recent days.

First, perhaps I may clarify the specific point on where we are in the judicial review process. Judicial review has been stayed. We welcome, and I am sure that the House will welcome, our discussions with the RICS. We do not expect the claim to continue and we look forward to moving forward with the RICS. Let me also restate that we remain convinced that, for a market that has seen no change since my mother and father bought their house 25 or 30 years ago, it is right to try to reform and improve a system that is the slowest, the least transparent, the least predictable, the most costly and the most stressful in Europe. The information that we are receiving from our area trials of HIPS is that 70 per cent of sellers actually agree with us that HIPS are useful.

Some of the criticisms should be held for a little while. We remain committed to the principle of home improvement packs and we remain equally committed not just to the principle but to the necessity of energy performance certificates. Every week, we have a new report about the speed of climate change. Every week, we are told that unless we act now it will be too late. By bringing forward the energy performance certificates, we have tried to set a lead and an example in Europe.

Both noble Baronesses said that we had not listened; they said that we had rushed ahead and refused to listen to common sense, including to what this House and the Merits Committee said. In fact, we have listened extremely hard for the past two years. When the Council of Mortgage Lenders told us that it was not ready to implement the home condition report, we withdrew it as a mandatory element of the pack. We have looked at the evidence from our area trials, which we set up last autumn; I explained to the House at the time that we were doing that to get more evidence. We have made transitional arrangements for when, for example, leaseholds and legal searches will be presented. We have listened hard to what the stakeholders have told us about the problems that they have encountered. That is why the consultation exercise that we are putting in place will address the specific issue that the RICS raised about the EPC, so that we can determine at what age we can generate a performance certificate that is proportionate, effective and in the best interests of the consumer and the community. So we have listened.

I was asked how we will know that we have enough trained assessors. Earlier, I gave figures that I think are extremely healthy and very sound. We have 2,500 people in training—those who are still to do their exams. We have 3,200 people who have passed their exams. As I said, 1,500 people are accredited or in the pipeline for accreditation. These are people who have made a commitment for a new career. We keep faith with them, which is why the process that I outlined is about keeping up their confidence in a climate that has been extremely difficult and harassing for them, because of the responses of some of the stakeholders and the constant commentary in some of the press. Our intention is to ensure that they have the work that they want. That is why we are introducing this in a phased manner, starting with the larger houses on 1 August, because we know that we can guarantee that work for them.

We will look to the social housing sector, not least because that is the right thing to do. We will have detailed negotiations with the RSLs and local authorities. We will be pragmatic and practical at this point. We will use the evidence that is coming forward from the numbers of assessors that we have and the work that they are getting to plan properly across the autumn how we bring other properties online.

I was asked about four-bedroom houses. I do not have anything in my brief about model railways, but I have a strong sense that trading standards officers and the people involved will have a good idea about what a four-bedroom house is. I think that the point is a bit of a red herring.

I was asked when the regulations will be laid. I cannot give a date now, but I assure the House that there will be ample opportunity for full parliamentary scrutiny. Indeed, I am happy that we are having the debate later this afternoon, as that will be a good opportunity for the House to explore some of the aspects that we do not have time for with this Statement.

I was also asked when we will be able to retrieve information from the pilots. We have already had two tranches, which have informed the changes that we have made, and we will get more information in July and August. Because transactions in this country take a minimum of six months, we will not have the full information until early autumn. We will certainly take the evidence into account.

Let me address some of the other questions that I was asked. We made an initial response to the Merits Committee by putting additional information in the Library of the House and by writing to the chair. One of the committee’s specific criticisms of the Government concerned the age of the EPC. We are addressing that and will address it in the consultation that we will bring forward. I have dealt with the issue of stock transfer.

In conclusion, as the Secretary of State said earlier today, our intention is to maximise the benefits and to proceed with the people with whom we need to keep faith by being as open, frank and pragmatic as possible. We need to minimise the risks but maximise the benefits to the consumer both in the way that houses are bought and sold and also by cutting carbon and costs for the consumer.

My Lords, do the Government have a definition of a bedroom which would stand up in law? Has the Minister not seen advertisements in estate agents’ windows for houses with two/three bedrooms or three/four bedrooms? The Government must have a legally binding and watertight definition; otherwise this situation will be more of a shambles than it looks now. Further, can the noble Baroness say who in government should take the credit for what she clearly feels has been an administrative coup?

My Lords, there is no definition of a four-bedroomed house in any housing law that I am aware of, but I should have thought that we could bring a fair degree of common sense to bear in the matter. We know that four-bedroomed houses represent 18 per cent of the stock, which is why we have specified that size of home at this point. We shall certainly issue guidance to trading standards officers, who will have responsibility in this area, and we shall certainly listen to stakeholders, who I am sure would want to ensure that we got things right. With regard to who takes credit, there is collective responsibility, as the noble Lord knows.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that this situation is so charged with human misery, waste and frustration and is so serious that it should not be the subject of party bickering or of trite political points? Furthermore, does she accept that for 10 years the Government have shown remarkable consistency in this matter? They made it a commitment before the 1997 election; in 2000, a Bill was introduced, which ran out of time; and it was the subject of Section 163 of the Housing Act 2004.

However, does the Minister accept that, whereas the Government can improve the situation for the community at large in only a limited area—there is no magic wand that can change the basic problem of the gap between the agreement and the ultimate exchange of contracts—what really counts in relation to HIPs is the home condition survey? If that is not made compulsory, there is very little prospect that the scheme will succeed. If it is made compulsory, there has to be a credible inspectorate that wins its spurs in executing its duties. But, if the survey is not made compulsory and it is left on a voluntary basis, the scheme will be a ship without a bottom.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, who is absolutely right. We made a commitment in the 1997 manifesto to try to improve the home-buying process. I suspect that from his professional experience the noble Lord knows more than most how many millions of pounds are lost each year in failed transactions and how many times people have to arrange yet another survey because a house is withdrawn from the market. The insecurity, lack of information and lack of transparency makes the process a misery. When I answered questions in this House a week ago, a noble Lord on the Cross Benches pointed out that the system was much better in France. He was absolutely right, and that applies to many other European countries as well.

We withdrew the home condition survey as a mandatory element of the pack because mortgage lenders told us that they felt that valuations would still be necessary. It seemed to us that we had to test that assertion, and that is what we have been doing in the area trials. However, the information coming back to us is that people like home condition reports. They give them information when they first look at a house so that they do not get nasty surprises. It is extremely important that they should have that information. But we are where we are, and I shall no doubt be reporting to the House in due course on how the trials are affecting transactions.

My Lords, sympathy has been expressed to the Minister; she is entitled to have it, given the history of this matter. I hope that she and her ministerial colleagues will persist in ultimately producing a scheme that is acceptable to all parties. I remind the House that it was Peter Walker in 1984 who began outlining a scheme whereby the kind of thing that the Government are now introducing should be part of every mortgage. Over the years, successive House of Commons Select Committees have asked for this sort of thing, and I cannot understand how people, especially those from another place with constituency experience, do not understand the importance of its introduction and the misery caused by the present hiatus.

The Minister spoke in general about waste, but I have seen figures proving that £1 million a day is wasted under the present system. Will she confirm whether that is the case? Surely any scheme that ultimately helps to eradicate such waste is useful. Will she confirm, too, that despite remarks from the opposition Benches that this scheme has no friends, bodies such as the Council for the Protection of Rural England, Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Fund and others are its friends and should be encouraged? Those really interested in this matter can prove their interest in about half an hour’s time by staying behind to hear the debate that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has said we will persist with. I cannot see the purpose of that, but I assure the House that the best speech that has never been made will be heard during that debate.

My Lords, that is surely an irresistible invitation to all noble Lords to stay and take part in the next stage of this debate. I am delighted to know that the Conservatives were so creative and committed in 1984 to bringing forward similar ideas, but I wonder what happened from 1984 to 1992.

I can confirm that £1 million a day is wasted in failed transactions; that is a well worked figure. Secondly, I confirm that the scheme has friends, certainly in this House, I am delighted to say, and in environmental groups which see the huge benefit of confronting as fast as we can the waste that we subscribe to by not being serious about saving carbon and not knowing how our houses use heat and how we can save on costs and energy. My noble friend is right on both counts, and I look forward to what I think will be a splendid speech shortly.

My Lords, the Minister talked about being open and frank. With a view to achieving that, can she tell the House when the Government will publish the results of the pilots and studies that have been running? They must not merely take those results on board but share them with the rest of the House, stakeholders and the public generally. When will the Government publish a full response to the report of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, which dealt not only with home information packs but with the energy performance of buildings regulations? I guess that it will be delayed in a similar manner, although I am not sure that I have heard that. The Minister will be aware that many noble Lords on this side are keen to see energy performance certificates introduced in an effective manner that is acceptable to the public.

My Lords, we will certainly publish the results of the pilots at the end of the research cycle. Because of the length of transactions—we must look at the impact of home condition reports on them—that will be in the autumn. We put two full documents in the Library in response to the Merits Committee, including the RIA in which the costs and benefits were worked out. I will see what else we can do in response to that.

My Lords, why are the Government talking about four-bedroom houses if they want to be forward looking? We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and my noble friend Lord Tebbit that this definition is not firm at all. The Minister has replied that she is sure that the Government can look at something firm. Everyone who now buys a property does so according to square footage. The district valuer works on both square footage and square metreage of a property. Surely that is the clear-cut definition of how to determine the size of a property, rather than saying how many bedrooms it has. I reinforce the points of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and my noble friend Lord Tebbit.

My Lords, I am listening closely to what noble Lords are saying about this. There will be a chance to look at the revised regulations when they are introduced. I will provide the House with as much information as possible before then.

My Lords, what will happen if people who own properties with fewer than four bedrooms—three, three and a half, or whatever it is in square metres—believe it is in their interest to produce HIPs with energy performance certificates after 1 August but before the end of the year when the full scheme comes into operation? Many of them, possibly first-time buyers, may think that it is a selling point. They will save an average of four buyers commissioning surveys, environmental reports, searches and everything else in the intervening period. This would be on a voluntary basis, but would the Minister consider including that in the new regulations?

My Lords, I will certainly take away what the noble Lord says. On the fascinating subject of the four-bedroom house, I argue that there would be a financial disincentive to market a property on the basis that it has fewer bedrooms than it has. I cannot see the logic of noble Lords’ concerns about that. We will certainly ensure that we have the number of assessors needed to bring smaller properties with fewer bedrooms on to the market as we proceed.

My Lords, does the Minister take heart from the fact that, in a debate on home improvement packs in another place, both opposition parties gave a great deal of support to EPCs? I hope that we would not now bury this valuable aspect of the report, which is supported by all sides of the House. I find it distressing that they are not being brought in as quickly as possible. Those of us worried about climate change realise that some of the most wasteful properties are old ones that must be improved and insulated. EPCs are one way that that could happen. Although there has been a great deal of disquiet and justifiable anxiety about how this process has been brought to this point, I hope that the Government will implement EPCs at the earliest opportunity. They have the support of all parties, as I am sure will be confirmed by all those speaking. It is therefore unfortunate that, by the Government’s figures, if we are to save 1 million tonnes of carbon a year, we will probably lose about 250,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during this delay.

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important new point about the unfortunate but inevitable implications of delay. He is absolutely right: we are not going to renege on EPCs. They are an extremely important part of our national policy for carbon reduction and of what people can do for themselves in cutting energy and bills. We will continue to consult closely with the environmental groups to ensure that we do this in the best way. We must now look at some of the issues raised by stakeholders during the consultation.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a surveyor and a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. I congratulate the Government on alienating the institution—the one body that was behind them throughout the legislation—which tells me that it cannot have any reasonable dialogue with the Government and has not been given answers to lots of questions. It is not surprising that it took the Government to judicial review.

The Minister is aware that I am included in her statistics about those training to be assessors, but she is not aware that I have refused to get fully qualified because of the waste of money that the Government have put me and hundreds of other people to. We spent a lot of money getting qualified for a new career that the Government have now taken away from us. A lot of surveyors who were on the course that I was on have decided not to become assessors for EPCs by themselves because it is not a sensible thing for a surveyor to undertake, particularly in a small practice.

The Minister said that the kits are useful; nobody is denying that. However, the market has taken care of improvements to the buying and selling process without central dictatorship from government. Lawyers have instituted better conveyancing—there is now e-conveyancing—and surveyors are getting more information upfront. The Government do not need to tell us to do that; everybody wants to do it.

The introduction of four-bedroom houses will give us surveyors such fun. We are going to have really good details from now on. My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes mentioned houses being sold by square footage. That might be the case in central London but not so much in the country. We are going to have real joy with three, four, five and six-bedroom houses. The poor trading standards officers, who are pushed for time now as there are not enough of them in local government, will come scurrying round. It is a mess. Please, just drop it.

My Lords, I hope the noble Earl completes the accreditation course, as the process is obviously going to be so much fun. I imagine that he will find it a better possibility.

As I said in the Statement, we are pleased that we have arrived at an accommodation with RICS. That takes us forward. The noble Earl said that he is not going to complete his accreditation course. We think that one of the reasons why people were slow to finalise their accreditation after they passed their exams, probably after they had done their five practical EPCs, was that they were uncertain what was going to happen. That uncertainty was wound up in different ways, not least by some of the newspapers, and we are sure that removing it will help. That is the only explanation we have for why so many people in training were being so slow to pay their final fees.

The noble Earl’s second argument was that the market will do its own job and regulate itself. We have not seen evidence of that, and the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, made that point. However, where HIPs have been introduced—on a voluntary basis or in the trial areas—there has already been a shift in the market that is driving up competition. Local authorities could charge variable fees for searches, but 25 local authorities have already lowered their fees. We are not relying simply on HIPs to improve the process. We think they will provide a platform for the market to improve its own processes through introducing competition—noble Lords opposite are surely in favour of that. That will make a difference to the way things are done, which has not changed for at least a generation.

My Lords, cannot the EPC be disassociated from the sales process and, like an MoT certificate, be valid for 10 years, as suggested in the European directive?

My Lords, we do not believe that is the right thing to do. EPCs and HIPs together make up a coherent and effective package. If they were split, both would be weaker. We have a delivery mechanism with HIPs to develop the EPCs. Because they are inter-related, the regulations reflect that interdependence.

My Lords, I think it is our turn. Will the Minister give us any further information about large-scale voluntary transfer? I declare an interest in Berwick borough council. We are half way through LSVT. She will know that I support measures to try to reduce emissions from housing; that is important. I am also aware of the very difficult process councils go through with LSVT. It would be much appreciated if the Minister could give concrete information as early as possible about how the provisions will affect that process. Can she indicate when she will be able to do that?

My Lords, I cannot, I am afraid. It is something that we need to get absolutely right. We need to have discussions with individual RSLs to know what is possible at what pace and with what implications. It would be wrong of us to try to collapse that process in any way. I am afraid that it will take time, but I will try to keep the noble Baroness fully informed about our progress.