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Room with a view

The Government claims to be confident of meeting its revised August 1 start date for Hips although this will now apply only to properties with at least four bedrooms.

The reality is that the Government is now a prisoner of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Contrary to the untruth (using Parliamentary language) told by the minister when announcing the latest Hips climbdown, RICS has not abandoned its request for a judicial review but simply accepted a stay of execution. This is a crucial distinction because now that a judge has said the Government does have a case to answer in respect of RICS’ request for a judicial review, RICS can insist that the full case is heard if the Government does not meet RICS’ requirements for the stay of execution. It seems to me that RICS has the Government by the short and curlies.

Ministers have admitted that there is no legal definition of what constitutes a four-bedroom house or bigger property. This has led to many suggestions about properties being marketed with, say, three bedrooms and a study, boxroom, playroom, etc.

It will not contravene the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991 to describe a property as having fewer bedrooms than it does. No doubt the Government which drafted that act did not anticipate that a future Government might produce such inept legislation that estate agents would find a marketing benefit in playing down a property. After years of estate agents describing boxrooms as bedrooms, it will be rather novel to see them reducing the bedroom count of houses.

It would be helpful if the National Association of Estate Agents would recommend standard terminology such as “Hip replacement rooms”. Estate agents are unlikely to have any difficulty advising prospective buyers that these rooms would be suitable for bedrooms. Websites such as Primelocation and Rightmove will need to amend their terminology so people can search for properties with x number of bedrooms and “Hip replacement rooms”.

If Chancellor Gordon Brown has decided to get rid of Hips, taking over as Prime Minister in about a month’s time will provide a convenient opportunity. He will reshuffle his Cabinet and the new housing minister will naturally carry out a policy review. No doubt Hips will be top of the agenda. The new minister will have about a month from being appointed to announce that he or she has decided to scrap everything required for a Hip except the energy performance certificate before the proposed August 1 start date.

Ray Boulger is senior technical manager at John Charcol.

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