Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Newspaper column 25 October - Housing

There is no doubt that one of the biggest challenges facing our country is that of housing. We feel this here in Cornwall probably as much as anywhere else in the country with the ratio of average wages to average house prices one of the biggest in the country.

I am very encouraged that Theresa May has made tackling this crisis her top domestic priority. A recent survey showed that 86% of people aspire to own their own home. We need to do all we can to enable people to attain to this desire.

In recent weeks we have seen a number of announcements introducing policies that begin to address this issue. From more money for social housing, to a new Help to Buy scheme and measures to address service charges charged by management companies.

This weekend saw further announcements of a consultation on how the government can make buying a house cheaper, faster and less stressful. These are all good news and I welcome this renewed focus on housing. As always we need to see these announcements result in action and changes to legislation and I will continue to keep a watchful eye as things develop.

There are two issues particularly I would like to see addressed.

One is that of stamp duty. This tax on house purchases is often a barrier particularly to first time buyers and those seeking to move up the property ladder. I would like to see stamp duty abolished completely for first time buyers. One of the ways we could achieve this is by switching stamp duty to the house seller rather than the buyer.

I also believe we need to provide greater protection for those buying new homes. We clearly need to build more houses to meet the current demand. These need to be in the right locations and with the supporting infrastructure, jobs and services in place. But we also need to address the issue of the quality of construction today.

There is a disturbing trend of defects and faults during construction that is increasing at an alarming rate. Around 30% of those who purchase new build properties today report that they are dissatisfied with the level of defects they find.

I have been contacted by a number of local constituents who have not only faced an unacceptable level of problems with their new homes but have also failed to get the protection and support from the warranty company.

Most new build houses today are sold with a 10 warranty in place. The most common of these are provided by the National House Building Council (NHBC) who have around 80% of the market.
It seems unacceptable to me that consumers today have more protection when buying a new mobile phone than they do, for what is for most people the biggest purchase of their life, a new home.

As a result, last week, I was pleased to secure a debate in Parliament to specifically address this matter.

It is clear to me that the current system of warranty is failing too many people and needs to be reviewed. Too often there appears to be a too cosy relationship between the warranty company and the builders. I also believe we should consider an independent Ombudsman to act in the new build housing market to hold developers to account for the quality of their work.

With a renewed emphasis on housing it is vital that we ensure all new houses are of a quality that will mean they will be the family homes for the future.