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Strengthening Consumer Redress in The Housing Market

Adrian Bland, head of commercial real estate at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, comments

The conclusion of a recent consultation by the Government into what courses of redress are available to consumers within the housing market has resulted in a raft of new proposals, aimed at clarifying an already-complicated system. However, do the proposals go far enough in addressing the problem and do they really have simplicity at their heart?

The tragedy of Grenfell Tower has caused consumers and suppliers to be more aware of building safety standards than ever before. Questions such as “Who pays to make housing safer?” have arisen, an increasingly fierce area of dispute. Yet it is not only the disastrous events which cause concern.  

At the other end of the scale, more day-to-day problems such as defective heating or build-up of condensation can cause misery and affect individuals’ health. Therefore, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act is an important new law – introduced recently around the time of the consumer redress consultation - which landlords should note. The Act will apply to all new tenancies – including assured shorthold - of under seven years and will imply obligations into residential leases that homes are fit for habitation.  

Currently, renters do not have a dedicated complaints service to go to when they are unhappy with their home. Under the new redress proposals, the Housing Complaints Resolution Service will be a single point of contact for all housing consumers, both buyers and renters, offering a simplified route to remedies such as repairs and compensation. A catch-all service of this kind could be a powerful solution for consumers and might also help providers - home builders and landlords – if it is done well.  

Yet there is a risk that the service will cover too broad a spectrum of issues to be efficient and effective. From a legislative viewpoint, new laws will also need to be brought forward to close the gaps in redress services. One requirement will be for all private landlords to sign up to a redress scheme: fines of up to £5,000 and stronger sanctions are planned to bring defaulters into line.  

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