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Are Hips home and dry?

Tanya Powley reports on the 11th-hour bids to halt Hips.

A last-ditch attempt to block the introduction of home information packs on June 1 was launched by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors last week, just a day before the policy was sanctioned in a House of Commons’ vote.

RICS started judicial review proceedings against the Department for Communities and Local Government, accusing it of failing to carry out proper consultation before implementing new legislation to bring in Hips.

The strength of opinion against Hips was highlighted in the Commons debate’ last week, with the Conservatives voicing strong opposition. Tory housing spokesman Michael Gove said ministers have “botched the process from beginning to end.”

He said: “They have ploughed on regardless, heedless of their potential damage to the housing market at an acutely delicate time. The change to the way in which we buy and sell our house is probably the biggest and most jarring intervention in the housing market since Nigel Lawson abolished mortgage interest tax relief.”

But the Conservatives failed to derail Hips after losing the motion vote by 306 votes to 234, giving the Government a comfortable majority of 72.

Spicerhaart Group chief executive Paul Smith says: “The vote in favour of Hips is disappointing. The current regulations are in disarray. Given that the production of the energy performance certificate is the only material justification for continuing with Hips, it would be better to concentrate on putting a system in place for an efficient production of EPCs, to ensure that severe delays to marketing properties are avoided.”

But opponents of Hips have not given up yet. The controversial policy was being debated in the House of Lords this week.

RICS’ hopes to secure an initial court hearing this week, where a judge will decide whether the case will proceed further. If the case does go to a full hearing, it could stop Hips being launched at the last minute.

The Association of Home Information Pack Providers deputy director general Paul Broadhead believes Hips will definitely go ahead despite RICS’ legal action. He says: “The Government won the vote. The mortgage market now need to make sure that as an industry as we deliver this initiative.”

London & Country mortgage specialist James Cotton says: “It is all a bit of a mess. We really should not be having this happen two weeks before Hips are set to be launched. An initiative on this scale should have been sorted out by now. It has gone beyond whether we agree with the initiative or not. Ultimately, we have got to think about helping consumers who will be dealing with Hips in two weeks time.”

Hamptons technical director Jonathan Cornell says Hips are likely to go ahead. “I support giving buyers more info but I do not think Hips are a good way of doing it.”

Speaking at the Mortgage Business Expo, EConveyancer sales director Alan Dring told delegates: “I hope now the future is a lot clearer for the industry than the murky waters there have been over the last 18 months.”

But Dring issued a warning to brokers, saying: “It is up to you now to know your competition. People will naturally go to estate agents if you do not tell them to come to you. You should make sure you tell them that you are the place to come for Hips.

“Some estate agents are likely to make Hips free so brokers need to make sure you know what your market is going to be. Make sure you find out exactly what estate agents are planning to do with them.”

Dring also dismissed RICS’ legal challenge against the Government. He said: “They do not like change.”

Ahipp director general Mike Ockenden says: “It is difficult to understand why RICS has taken this latest step against Hips when they are in the process of training both home inspectors and DEAs and play a prominent role within the Hip industry, as a certification scheme.”

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly accused the Conservatives and RICS of being “anti-change, anti-consumer and, by putting energy certificates at risk, anti-green”.

RICS’ regulatory board chairman Teresa Graham says: “We have exhausted all the alternatives and greatly regret that we were left with no other option if we are to protect the public’s property interests.”

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