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Housing: Home Information Packs and Condition Reports

Volume 701: debated on Thursday 8 May 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How many (a) home information packs and (b) home condition reports have been commissioned.

My Lords, the commercial and private nature of a home owner’s decision when to place their property on the market for sale means that we do not hold information on the number of home information packs and home condition reports commissioned. However, from 1 August 2007 to 1 May 2008, 642,551 home information packs have been produced; and, to the beginning of May, 1,776 home condition reports have been lodged on the HCR register.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. Is she aware that some inspectors are not earning the income that they were led to expect? For how many months does an HIP energy performance certificate last, especially in this very uncertain housing market?

My Lords, on the first part of the question, the noble Baroness will know that we rolled out HIPs to all dwellings last December, which will create a significant demand for EPCs. I can also tell her that throughout the year there will be increasing opportunities. From 1 October, EPCs will also be required for private and social rented property on a change of tenancy and for sales of commercial property, so we will embark on a major communication campaign. Significantly, we are also finding that the industry is responding to the potential of the market-led, voluntary home condition report, and we are looking at examples that are coming forward to complement that. So there is a lot of positive activity in the field. At the moment, the EPC lasts for a year but, following our consultation process, we are considering a range of options proposed by stakeholders and will come to a decision soon.

My Lords, this is a very interesting subject to practically everyone in the country. Would it be useful if a study was undertaken to find out how many people selling or buying a house think of undertaking a study themselves?

My Lords, we conducted area trials to anticipate the rollout and found that most people who took part found that the information was what they wanted. It is an evolving process. We have been as flexible as possible; today, we are laying amending regulations to extend the period of flexibility for first-day marketing and in relation to leasehold information, because that is complex. That is what the industry wants, and that is what we are doing.

Yes, my Lords. In the private rented sector, when the change is introduced, EPCs will have to be produced on a change of tenancy. That does not mean that an energy performance certificate will have to be commissioned every time the tenancy changes. At the moment, the EPC lasts for a year, but, as I said, the consultation process suggested that it should last for longer, and we are considering that. It is right to include the private rented sector because so many people need to know what their energy costs would be when they change tenancy, even if they are renting.

My Lords, the Minister will know that the report of the pilots came out after the rollout of this operation. Fifty-eight per cent of buyers did not agree that home information packs had speeded up the buying process and more than three-quarters said that the HIP had no effect on their decision to purchase their property. In the light of this, and given what the Minister said today, when can we expect a proper evaluation of this whole costly bureaucratic process?

My Lords, it is not costly or bureaucratic. The EPC on average costs £300, not the £1,000 that was anticipated. It is giving people information for the first time about the costs of their energy when they move home. Thirty per cent of the people who took out HIPs said that they were going to act on that information. We do have a problem in that estate agents are not always letting buyers know about the HIP or what it contains. That is why we are now working closely with the industry. We have a stakeholder group that represents the whole of the industry and consumers to ensure not only that people get the information they want but that the HIP itself is enhanced with consumer-friendly information. This is work in progress—we have never made a secret of that—but it will help the market and the buyer.

My Lords, I understand that yet another order is coming forward that will extend the date so that the first-day exemption, which permits a seller to sell their house without a home information pack, in effect defers the full implementation of this programme once again. It really is time that we began to look at the end of this farce. Would it not be much better to focus everyone’s attention on the energy and efficiency reports for individual homes, which are essential and very helpful to everyone, even to people who are not moving house, and would be much more beneficial to the whole community, and to end this nonsense which the vast majority of sellers of houses do not find helpful? I agree that it is not very expensive, but it is beginning to waste a great deal of everyone’s time.

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. He is a champion of energy performance certificates, which do an important job. However, the home information pack is serving a purpose. The interesting thing is that as the process beds down—and it has been successful; nearly 700,000 HIPs have been rolled out—the industry is coming forward to see what is possible and how HIPs can be improved in relation to a home’s condition. The noble Lord shakes his head, but I assure him that we are working with people such as RICS and SAVA to make the most of the opportunity. The changes that we make today are in response to the certainty that industry says is important at this time to extend the process of flexibility of first-day marketing.

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that despite the impression created in some quarters that home information packs have no friends in the country at all, these are very widely seen as an enormous advantage in dealing with estate agents, who are not normally known for putting the whole truth on their prospectuses. History will show that a variation of the present home information pack, if not the exact one, is here to stay, and the professionals in the industry really ought to start to get behind it and realise that it is in the interests of everyone in lubricating the buying and selling of houses.

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right: the point is that the industry is now behind it. There is no doubt about that. We have seen what we thought would happen; the introduction of HIPs is driving changes across the market. For example, the cost of searches has gone down on average by £30 and in some instances by £120. As I have said, we have 700,000 energy performance certificates. People are acting on those changes, and, at a time when energy bills are inevitably going up, how much better it is that we give them information on which they can bring down their costs.