Mike Ockenden (AHIPP) interview – the future of HIPs

Welcome to Mike Ockenden, Chairman of the Association of Home Information Pack Providers (AHIPP) who has kindly agreed to spread a bit of light on how he sees the past and future of all things HIP related.

Q 1. – What one area has the Home Information Pack positively changed and which area do wish had been different and/or improved?

A. – HIPs have positively changed a number of areas of the homebuying and selling process, but if I had to pick one it would be the improved speed at which transactions get to exchange of contracts because of the pack. Data released by Connells in September 2009 showed that vendors with HIPs exchanged contracts on their property on average seven calendar days faster than those without a Home Information Pack.

Q 2. – It is quite widely read that Grant Shapps has pledged; time and time again to scrap HIPs, if as it appears is likely that the Conservatives win the next election. Do you think the Tories will definitely scrap HIPs or in reality alter and re-brand them?

A. – There is a great opportunity to create a genuinely sustainable alternative to HIPs that will not require the complete unraveling of the existing legislation and industry infrastructure but will rather be built on enabling the British public to have a faster and more efficient house-buying process. AHIPP hopes to work with the Conservatives to re-package HIPs and thus achieve this goal.

Q 3. – AHIPP seems to have softened their stance towards Grant Shapps, is that because he is listening to you now?

A. – AHIPP values the relationship with Grant Shapps and his office which we have always seen as positive and constructive. We wish to continue the dialogue over the coming weeks and months and hope to work with the Conservatives to create a genuinely sustainable alternative to HIPs.

Q 4. – If the Tories carry out their promise to scrap HIPs, what timescale will this involve, are they able to suspend them first with legislation already in place? If so, how long will that take and would suspension need to go through the House of Lords where the Tories would be in the minority?

A. – Whilst the power exists for the Secretary of State to suspend the HIP duties the recast of the EPBD, that will be signed off in December 2009 by the European Council of Ministers, complicates matters. As previously mentioned, AHIPP hopes to work with the Conservatives to create a sustainable alternative to HIPs that will not require a complete unravelling of the existing legislation. To move to a situation where no replacement or alternative is in place would be a retrograde and unacceptable step in efforts to reform the process of buying and selling homes.

Q 5. – With rising un-employment figures, scrapping HIPs would no doubt increase that number, do you have an estimate of the number of people involved in the established Home Information Pack industry?

A. – The UK HIP industry is worth over £300 million and employs over 10,000 people either directly or through the provision of the constituent parts. Clearly a lot of jobs would be at risk.

Q 6. – With Grant Shapps’ pledge to scrap HIPs how many of those at risk of un-employment due to this pledge can you see voting conservative?

A. – I can’t comment on individual cases but it is worth noting that scrapping HIPs will not only affect HIP providers, but all those organisations which currently provide services and products to HIP providers. The destruction of the HIP industry will impact on solicitors, estate agents, printers, IT services suppliers, and marketing companies, in addition to those who directly provide HIP elements such as search agents and energy assessors.

Q 7. – Are HIPs the ‘perfect’ solution to the system prior to HIPs being introduced. What do you see being the best way forward for HIPs, what changes do you see improving the HIP if any?

A. – We must be open and honest about the introduction of Home Information Packs and recognise that they have not achieved everything they set out to do. Their introduction was far from perfect and they have not delivered everything that was hoped. Lessons need to be learned from our experiences, both positive and negative, to inform the next stage of reform.

Going forward, AHIPP would like to work with the Conservatives to develop a viable way forward that is to the benefit of consumers, building on exchange ready HIPs and Energy Performance Certificates, and to ensure providers adhere to the highest standards in providing services to consumers.

Q 8. – Most know about the historic U-turn in regard to the Home Condition Report (HCR), can you ever see a day when this exact product is included in the HIP or is it more likely we will follow Scotland and use a ‘RICS type’ survey if introduced?

A. – The u-turn over HCRs was one of the biggest disappointments about the bungled introduction of HIPs. There might come a time where the issue is revisited but for the moment we are focused on ensuring that the home buying and selling process is a faster and more certain process for consumers and professionals. We believe that the exchange ready HIP provides the framework for this.

Q 9. – It is widely recognised that there is a massive oversupply of Domestic Energy Assessors (DEA) and Home Inspectors (HI). How do you feel about training providers continuing to train people as Domestic Energy Assessors (DEA)s and Home Inspectors (HI) when some Home Inspectors (HI) have never carried out one Home Condition Report (HCR)?

Domestic Energy Assessors and Home Inspectors are part of an open and free market and as such it is inevitable that access to the necessary training should remain available. Over time we can expect market forces to take effect, leading to a balance of supply and demand with regards to these roles and their place in the wider market. That said there will always be demand for good people.

Q 10. – Should Domestic Energy Assessors (DEA) carrying out EPCs directly for AHIPP members be worried about future payments as HIP providers could be very quickly be in financial distress if HIPs are scrapped?

The abolition of HIPs would clearly have significant and immediate financial consequences for HIP providers. I am however confident that an alternative sustainable product, building on the benefits of the existing HIP, can be developed and will ensure the future of the industry in the UK. It should also be noted that the EPBD recast will require an EPC to be in place prior to marketing a property for sale or rent. HIPs currently provide the only framework to deliver the EPC.

Q 11. – Can you tell us a little about PEPA; some have said possibly quite cynically that PEPA is a way forward for AHIPP members who are going to lose their main income stream and an exit strategy for AHIPP?

The Federation of Property Information Providers (FPIP) brings together the Association of Home Information Pack Providers (AHIPP) and the Council of Property Search Organisations (CoPSO) under one umbrella, recognising the increasing prominence of the role of these industries in serving consumers. The Property and Energy Professionals Association (PEPA) which has recently been formed is focused on the future of energy and condition reporting in the widest sense across both domestic and commercial properties. Its agenda is distinctly different to that of AHIPP. While the member organisations of FPIP will retain their independence and individual management structures, the Federation’s objective will be to strengthen the constituent bodies’ ability to drive forward positive reform and to act as a compelling, effective voice for the sector with Government.

Q 12. –  Looking back it seems to have been quite a rollercoaster for the life so far of the Home Information Pack, did you imagine at the inception it would have been as it has?

A. There is cross industry recognition that HIPs have not achieved everything they set out to do and clearly this is disappointing. What is important now is how we develop the many benefits contained in a HIP and create a new sustainable product that delivers more fully for the consumer going forward.

Q 13. – Mike as Chairman of AHIPP, you have had some very strong opposition to your Pro-HIP beliefs, thoughts and actions; however, whether others agree with your views or not, most people almost universally recognise the good work you have done towards promoting Home Information Packs. What has your biggest achievement been in this regard so far?

A. – I hope that my biggest achievement is yet to come and that my legacy for AHIPP will be to have worked with the Conservatives to create a genuinely sustainable alternative to HIPs.

Q 14. – This time next year will we still have Home Information Packs and what will they look like?

Yes, I believe we will, in the form of a mandatory legal pack (containing an EPC) to be in place prior to marketing. It just might not be called a HIP!

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