Muddled thinking on HIPs must end

The government\'s humiliating U-turn over Home Information Packs followed last minute negotiations with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

To reach a compromise, communities secretary Ruth Kelly was forced to invent a new set of rules on the hoof, and it shows. The idea of only making HIPs applicable to four-bedroom houses is nonsense and there is no clarity on when HIPs will be phased in for other types of properties at the time of writing.

Confusion reigns and during the past week I have heard a number of incorrect observations ranging from the assertion that HIPs have been abandoned to the fact that RICS has withdrawn its judicial review. Neither statement is true, so let me attempt to clarify a few of the key issues relating to HIPs.

• The government has not postponed the launch of HIPs – it has delayed it until August 1.

• From August 1, HIPs will be introduced on a phased basis, starting with properties with four or more bedrooms. The government has said that HIPs will be introduced for smaller properties as soon as enough energy assessors are available.

• There is no legal definition for what constitutes a fourbedroom house. Anybody can describe their house as having three bedrooms and a study. However, such a tactic may save an owner 300 on a HIP but cost them 10,000 by effectively downgrading their property. Home owners need to be reminded to use a large dose of common sense.

• Until the end of this year, a home owner will be able to market their property as soon as they have commissioned a HIP – they will not need to wait for a pack to be produced.

• The government estimates it needs 2,000 assessors to support the launch of HIPs and 2,500 within a month thereafter. When Kelly made her speech, there were 2,500 in training but only 520 were accredited. The shortage of assessors was clearly a factor in the government’s decision to delay HIPs.

• RICS has not withdrawn its judicial review. This has been stayed and can be reactivated if the government fails to deliver on its obligations. RICS agreed to the stay on the basis that the government provides a 12-week consultation period on Energy Performance Certificates, publishes a regulatory impact assessment and also pays RICS’ legal costs.

So there you have it – clear as mud. We need to know when HIPs are likely to be introduced across the board and when the necessary number of assessors will be in place. But based on the government’s muddled thinking and communications so far on virtually everything to do with HIPs, don’t hold your breath. And what should you be doing in the meantime? Selling conveyancing services.