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Earlier this month, the industry received the first piece of news on the NHO after waiting (impatiently) for the next development. As per our recently published update, The Dispute Service was appointed as the preferred partner to become the New Homes Ombudsman.

As soon as the news was released, an open invitation to submit media queries was added to the website and After Build offered a list of questions, which you can see, in full, below.

The questions that we’ve submitted are not an exhaustive list of our queries, but it’s a start. Some of the questions are more contentious than others. For example, we wanted to know if the NHO would be addressing anything under the umbrella of the ongoing cladding saga. We also wanted to know if the ombudsman would be applying a retrospective statute of limitations on problems that occupants could report.

We also have pertinent concerns about the jurisdiction of the new regulator on the block. Up until this point, it’s usually agreed that most disputes pertaining to after care go to the warranty provider (NHBC, Premier, etc.), although even this gets a bit murky if a customer decides to, for example, take a developer to court. An ombudsman usually represents the final word in most B2C industries, but what will happen now if there is a discrepancy between two dispute resolution decisions? And will it even be possible for a customer to use the Ombudsman service if they are working within a warranty provider’s complaint process?

Following submitting questions of this type, and a good bit of chasing, we were contacted by the New Homes Quality Board media team who couldn’t give us answers but did provide some insight as to why.

Firstly, some of the questions are pretty incendiary given the existing talks around, for example, cladding, and for that reason, need a lot of thinking through rather than just wading in. Some of the questions we were asking don’t have definite answers yet and will form part of the setting up process that the Dispute Service will go through.

Secondly, the point was made that, although they’d love to provide answers to all concerned as quickly as they can, it’s important that information is released to all stakeholders at the same time. (Apparently this is the same answer I’d receive even if I was the CEO of Persimmon Group – good to know).

But the good news is that I’ve been promised that they will shortly be releasing a Q&A which will speak to most if not all of the questions we’ve raised. There was a loose expectation that this would be published by the end of the year.

As soon as have the answers to these and any other questions, we will pot them up and make sure our client base is aware of what they need to do to be ready for the New Homes Ombudsman.

After Build’s questions:

Question 1)

Is there any further parliamentary involvement that needs to happen before the new code comes into effect and House Builders are required to register? If so, which session is this likely to occur in?

Question 2)

Up until now, the closest thing to a regulator that a consumer has had available to them (relating to after care in new properties) is the warranty provider (NHBC, Premier Guarantee etc).

- What co-operation will take place between the Ombudsman and the warranty provider’s dispute resolution services?

- Will homeowners be encouraged to take one route or another?

- In the case of a conflicting stance between the New Homes Ombudsman and the warranty provider, i.e., whether to proceed with works, which directive should the developer follow?

- Will information about developer performance (in terms of aftercare) be shared between organisations?

Questions 3)

Following its launch, will the New Homes Ombudsman be taking new enquiries only, or will they be considering complaints relating to existing or historic issues? If so, what will the statute of limitation be?

Question 4)

Will the New Homes Ombudsman be addressing existing high-profile issues such as the ongoing cladding crisis or the leaseholder reforms?

Question 5)

Following the consultation period, are there any major changes anticipated between the draft code published in June and the final documents that developers will be required to follow.

Question 6)

Is there any further certainty on the way that developers’ subscription charges will be calculated?

Question 7)

Will the New Homes Ombudsman release a schedule of likely compensation rates, and will these be in line with any charges that the industry would be familiar with, i.e. “Right to Repair Act” compensations. Will developers be encouraged to resolve complaints with ex gratia payments?

Question 8)

Will the New Homes Ombudsman wait for all eligible developers to be registered under the scheme before beginning to enforce the code or will developers be required to comply as they sign on?

Question 9)

How will the new code interact with the Consumer Code of 2010 which has represented another avenue for new homeowners to seek redress for issues which arise during the sale and aftercare process?

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