Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Retirement Housing Group (DHB 08)


  The Retirement Housing Group of the House Builders Federation consists of retirement housing developers and housing managers, both RSL and private sector. Its ex officio members include representatives of the charity, the Elderly Accommodation Counsel, and the Association of Retirement Housing Managers. The Advice and Mediation Service (AIMS) of Age Concern is also represented. Its members are therefore involved in the building, management and provision of advice on housing for those of retirement age and over. Such housing ranges from lifestyle properties for the active, newly retired through to warden assisted housing with community facilities and design modifications through to very sheltered housing with high staffing levels and many additional services and facilities.

  The Group has a wide-ranging interest in planning and management issues, leasehold reform and Government policy of all kinds, which affect vulnerable groups such as the elderly.


  Our Submission looks at the impact of the Housing Bill on this specialist area of housing. Therefore it does not seek to comment on housing fitness standards, controls on houses in multiple occupation, the licensing of landlords or the modernisation of Right to Buy, but focuses exclusively on the proposal to introduce a Home Information Pack.


  The Retirement Housing Group supports the Government's desire to achieve openness and transparency in the selling process, increase certainty, reduce wasted costs and shorten the overall transaction timescale.

  Whilst the provision of information in a HIP may help to standardise documentation it seems probable that the current proposals will do little, if anything, to speed-up the system and nothing to secure a committed vendor or purchaser, whilst adding to the costs borne by the vendor.

  This, plus the prescriptive nature of the Pack, is likely to reduce the number of vendors in the total market and have the effect of reducing the size of the new homes industry, the output of which is always a direct function of the size of the total housing market.

  On the specific contents of the HIP, our concerns are for developers and managers of retirement housing (who are usually involved in re-sales) but primarily for vendors and purchasers in the market as a whole, who may find any theoretical advantages of the information provided by the HIP over-ridden by a reduction in housing choice and the deterrent effect of producing a Pack of such size and complexity, as currently specified in ODPM's consultation paper. This is particularly true for elderly vendors and purchasers.


  We have two main concerns.

  1.  The inclusion of detailed contamination reports will require professional interpretation for purchasers and this may lead them to have unnecessary concerns as well as incurring additional costs beyond their normal legal costs. The current system is that, on production of a satisfactory contamination report, the NHBC issues a certificate, which specifically covers contamination and should be satisfactory for all parties.

  2.  The normal sales pattern on retirement housing schemes means that the development is usually completed before sales commence. Normal sales rates mean that the development is then sold over the succeeding two to three years. Nothing has changed during that period and therefore the proposal that a Home Condition Report should be updated after no more than three months old is an extremely onerous requirement both in the new homes market and particularly in this market. We would suggest that, as retirement properties are newly built and covered by the NHBC ten-year warranty, an exemption or waiver should be placed on this item for new developments


  Our principal concern however is for our purchasers who are, on average, in their mid 70s. Many of them will have lived in their existing house for an average of 25 years. They will experience difficulty in providing many of the items in the Pack, as these may never have been provided by the original builder, either to them or to the original purchaser, perhaps fifty years ago (eg planning consent with drawings, building regulation consents, which were not usual in the 1950s and 1960s) as well as maintaining a current Home Buyers Report.

  No doubt there will be providers eager to offer these services, but how much information will be available, at what cost and what happens if it cannot be found? Is this not simply creating an unnecessary and burdensome new industry?

  Further, the legal responsibility remaining with the vendor must be clearly defined and understood, as additional burdens are likely to deter many from selling, further reducing the release by elderly owner-occupiers of housing that is too large for them but may be desperately needed by families. This will perpetuate continuing levels of under-occupation, contrary to the Government's planning policy recommendations and its desire to create a more sustainable housing market.


  Overall, we do not see any significant benefit in introducing the proposed Home Information Pack. This, with the increased amount of information it requires, will reduce the size of the total housing market, and therefore the choice available to purchasers, whilst increasing costs and protracting the length of transactions, contrary to the Government's intention in introducing the Pack.

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