Interview with chairman of IPPA Colin Smithson-Connelly – Part 1

Colin Smithson-Connelly, Chairman of the Independent Pack Providers Association (IPPA) joins us to discuss the finer points of Home Information Packs, their future and what more they could offer property conveyancing.

What areas of the property buying and selling process has the Home Information Pack positively changed and which areas could be improved and how?

Home Information Packs have started the process of updating the home buying and selling process, lets not fool ourselves that they are the be all and end all but they are a  step in the right direction, during my own discussions with all the parties involved in the home buying/selling process I have to be honest that I was surprised just how fragmented the different parties involved in the process are. Each party is either suspicious or knocks others involved in the process and this could lead to the consumer losing out.

Even if they initially united these parties against them, HIPs have certainly galvanised the Industry to actually look for ways forward to improve the process and HIPs can certainly still be part of that process. The Industry almost unanimously agrees that they aren’t perfect but should be retained and adapted to work more effectively which IPPA certainly agrees with. Who in hindsight would expect the Government to get it right first time anyway and HIPs have already seen important improvements with the inclusion of the PIQ and tightening of the rules surrounding the Searches included in the HIPs.

Certainly the feedback that we have received directly from Estate Agents has been almost totally positive with regards to Home Information Packs (HIPs), many expected delays in marketing and issues that haven’t materialised surrounding HIPs and now that they have bedded in are very surprised and against HIPs being totally removed from the process.

Vast improvements can be made from within the HIPs Industry itself to give far more clear information about HIPs, why were they introduced, what’s in them and why, how can that information be used when looking for a property to buy should all be promoted to the consumer with every HIP ordered.

I carry out EPCs occasionally for much larger HIP Companies and I am always dismayed that the only contact the consumer has had with the HIP Company was to take their Credit card details and payment. The HIPs Industry needs to buck up it’s ways to survive the issues surrounding it at the moment but if we had got the message over better from the start we might not be in this situation now.

There seems to be a growing level of anecdotal evidence to support Home Information Packs continued existence though the industry seems to be more reflective than we have experienced before. Can you explain why we are seeing this?

I think that Grant Shapps stance on HIPs has been a catalyst for the Industry to take a hard look at the product they supply, how it can be improved but also at how effective it is now. Due to the initial delays in implementation and the housing market downturn the Industry effectively concentrated on surviving and relying on the Government to provide recommended changes, Grant Shapps has changed that and challenged the Industry to come up with improvements which the Industry certainly has. It’s not coincidental that all parties that have made suggestions have effectively said the same thing, an exchange ready product will take HIPs to the next level and dramatically improve the home buying/selling process.

Unfortunately though, while the HIPs Industry rose to Grant Shapps challenge he does seem to have tunnel vision with regards to HIPs and his stance is in danger of missing this great opportunity. Whether that determination will be still there if the Conservatives win the General Election only time will tell. The HIPs Industry needs to continue to make and suggest improvements and to be more effective in getting the benefits of HIPs out to the consumer.

The OFT report published only the other day does seem to be very positive for HIPs especially in the sense that it officially dispels the myth that HIPs are “killing the market” and would appear to be a stumbling block to any attempt to claim that HIPs should be suspended because they aren’t working in the near future.

I would expect to see more evidence to support the use and evolvement of HIPs over the coming months along with support from different parties involved in the process now that they realise the very real danger of taking a massive step backwards under a Conservative Government.

Most industry people are aware of AHIPP, what differences are there between IPPA and AHIPP?

I should start by saying that both AHIPP and IPPA ultimately want the same thing, the retention and strengthening of HIPs in the home buying/selling process!

There are obvious differences between the two Organisations though and the way in which we both go about lobbying for the retention of HIPs.

Independent Pack Providers Association (IPPA)AHIPP cater for the large National HIP Companies and other large associated Companies such as the National Search Agents etc.

IPPA was set up to promote and protect the interests of the smaller Independent HIP providers who generally work on a local basis, we are very proud of our achievements to date, IPPA was the first HIP organisation that put a strict auditing process in place to ensure quality and awareness before membership was accepted, something that seemed so obvious but the other Organisations missed and ended up having to follow IPPA’s lead.

IPPA is also still receiving applications to membership today, we have a number of applicants going through the auditing procedure currently where as it appears as though AHIPP members are not renewing their membership when it is due, I wonder if HIPs do survive the coming months whether AHIPP as we know it will continue?

IPPA have been lobbying hard behind the scenes with all interested parties involved in the HIP Industry and have received positive responses from Grant Shapps office. I believe this is because we have taken a more tolerant attitude to Grant Shapps comments but also because we are all actively involved in the day to day production of HIPs. We carry out HIPs and EPCs every day, In my own Business I have to ask consumers for the cost of a HIP even when they don’t want to have to pay for one, I understand their frustration at having to pay for something that they have been led to believe is ” just a Government tax”  but I am pleased when after explanations they understand the reasons behind this and can see that HIPs are far more than the “chap coming round to look at the boiler”.

I think that Grant Shapps office appreciate that IPPA aren’t paying lobbyists ( he obviously has a thing about that ) to put our case over but we are actually speaking with experience from the “front line”. Whether our endeavours are wasted remains to be seen but I do believe IPPA and the whole Industry have proved to Grant Shapps that HIPs do have an important part to play.

IPPA is still looking to provide its’ members with the best back up possible and should soon have new and exciting member benefits that will also give complete financial protection to the consumer and also suppliers of products to IPPA members such as personal search agents who seem to have suffered severely at the demise of larger HIP suppliers!

We have all seen the damage done when these National companies go out of business, I am pleased to say, that the only IPPA member to have closed their Business did so because they retired and closed their Business in the proper manner and left no debts behind. For DEAs and personal search agents in the months ahead this maybe the biggest difference between IPPA and other Organisations!

I believe that even if HIPs do become voluntary, IPPA members are best placed to survive and adapt to the new trading conditions that would create, IPPA members have already demonstrated their ability to work to the highest standards, be flexible but also very Professional. IPPA members have built contacts with local trading partners that would enable them to continue being successful into the future!

There has been criticism made towards the lack of protection that has been offered by AHIPP when their members have ceased trading or gone into liquidation leaving massive debts to their suppliers (often search providers or domestic energy assessors). Is this fair?

I don’t really think that IPPA should comment on that except to say that everyone involved in supplying products to a third party involved in HIPs production should be cautious in their approach to credit control. We will undoubtedly see this situation happening more frequently over the coming months and if HIPs are relegated to being voluntary I would envisage many HIP Companies closing shop overnight, choose your trading partners carefully!!

If the Conservatives do win the next election, do you think the Tories will definitely scrap HIPs or in reality alter and re-brand them?

I think at this time it is definitely their intention to scrap the legislation for compulsory HIPs but to be honest who knows what their real intentions are, after all they are Politicians!

I don’t think it would be a case of a bit of face paint and re-naming them though if they did survive. Whether it be the Tories or Labour back in power I believe that HIPs should be radically overhauled in the near future with more involvement from the Legal sector needed to truly make them effective!

What length of time do you envisage this will take and what mechanisms would they have at their disposal to facilitate this?

I think that unless they move very quickly and efficiently to get where they need to be to remove the legislation then it could get substantially delayed. You would imagine that there would be far more serious issues that would take precedent for Parliamentary time so unless the case against HIPs was put in place before others were ready then I believe there could be a protracted and lengthy delay.

Grant Shapps has admitted that they need a public consultation which would take three months and a  lengthy time to get that set up in the first instance would be needed, with the summer recess I would expect HIPs to see the year out at least.

The HIP Industry needs to make every day count now to gather information and support for HIPs, IPPA have already started to gather information to put to the public consultation, information gathered from the “front line”!

Tommorrow we will be publishing part 2 of the interview where Colin discusses the consequences if HIPs were actually scrapped and the viability of a voluntary HIP Pack.

For more information on Independent Pack Providers Association (IPPA) visit their website.

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