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Broken hip

Gregor Watt surveys the sorry scene after Ruth Kelly was forced into an embarrassing U-turn to shelve the widely unpopular home information packs.

The Government’s lastminute decision to delay the introduction of home information packs is just the latest in a long line of changes to the ill-fated Hips.

Hips were first proposed over 10 years ago with the aim of helping to complete more property transactions. One in four of intended house purchases falls through and the original Hip was designed to avert some of the common problems.

It included a home condition report, the structural survey element of the Hip, which could at least have highlighted issues that can take prospective buyers by surprise later in the buying process. But the HCR was removed as a compulsory part last year and undermined the worth of the packs.

Moneysupermarket head of mortgages Louise Cuming says the endless amendments have made Hips worthless.

She says: “The delay and amendments to Hips add confusion to chaos and the Government should scrap the whole concept.

“Delaying the rollout of Hips will not transform a poorly thought out piece of legislation. The Government should bite the bullet and admit, in the current format, Hips are a disaster.

“The concept behind Hips was plausible but since watering down the legislation it has become nothing but a political slurry and the most unsupported piece of legislation I have known.”

John Charcol senior technical manager Ray Boulger says: “After the debacles over Sipps, pension term assurance and the alternatively secured pension this is just the latest example of the Government ignoring advice from professionals practising in the relevant field and then being forced to back down at the 11th hour.”

Hips have been delayed until August 1 but even this is not as straightforward as it seems. Initially they will be required only for homes with four or more bedrooms, with smaller properties following later.

The legal challenge from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors that caused the Government to delay the introduction of Hips has not been abandoned.

RICS housing spokesman Jeremy Leaf says: “RICS has not withdrawn with the judicial review – it has been stayed and can be reactivated if the Government fails to deliver on its obligations.”

It says it has no objections in principle to the introduction of the energy performance certificate but the problems are over the way the Government was introducing them.

The latest delay has also angered providers of Hips.

Allied Surveyors chief executive Robert Bryant-Pearson says, after last year’s abandonment of the home condition report, this is the second time that people who have given up jobs to train for a new career have been let down by the Government. He says: “The arrogance of Ruth Kelly and Yvette Cooper is exceeded only by their arrogance in ignoring the legal representations that have been made. Not surprisingly, we are now taking legal advice as to how to set about seeking recompense from these ministers.”

London & Country mortgage specialist James Cotton says it is now not clear if the aim of Hips is to help the housebuying process or the Government’s green agenda.

He says: “The reasoning for the introduction of Hips has always been to improve the buying and selling process in this country, to reduce the number of transactions that fall through and cut out gazumping. Recently, however, the Government has focused predominantly on the EPC and its green benefits.

“The EPC has potential benefits for the environment but the Government’s stubbornness has resulted in a half-hearted launch in August and a totally confused housebuying public.”

The Council of Mortgage Lenders director general Michael Coogan says: “With the fundamental lack of confidence that now exists in them, we urge the Government to ditch the gold-plating and concentrate on better ways of achieving its objectives.”

Paul Smith, chief executive of estate agency Spicer-haart Group, says: “A postponement until August, will give the Government the opportunity to finally withdraw the legislation and re-evaluate how they should proceed.

“Now the Government needs to learn from its previous mistakes and consult the industry. If the Government does this, it will become apparent that they should scrap Hips and simply introduce the energy performance certificate, which is the only document that is required by the European Union directive.”


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