Give the HIPs dry run a fair chance

Although Home Information Packs don’t go live until June 2007, an extensive dry run is being undertaken this year. The idea is to sort out teething problems before the switch is finally thrown. A laudable objective and surely not one anybody could disagree with.

Well, some people do disagree. Their concern is that the dry run is fatally flawed for one important reason – the price is not being factored into the equation. All packs being used as part of the trial are being provided at no cost so there is no way of establishing how consumers will react to the cost of packs or what effect this will have on the housing and mortgage markets.

The worry is that the cost of HIPs may deter speculative house movers and this could result in a slump in housing transactions next year. Assessing home owners’ reactions to HIP pricing is therefore critical and nobody is more interested in this issue than
HIP providers.

But there is an obvious problem. It’s difficult if not impossible to charge home owners for HIPs when they are not yet compulsory. It would be like asking people to voluntarily pay for TV licences if there was no need to buy them. The other question is that even if a charge was made, what price should be put on HIPs for the purpose of the trial? The theoretical price is £600 to £700 but ASDA has already announced it will be providing HIPs free to anyone who uses its house selling service. I’m sure a number of lenders and estate agents will also be marketing heavily subsidised HIPs, so what is a representative price – £700, £500, £300 or nothing?

The only time to test the price is when HIPs go live. It’s not ideal but I don’t see any other solution to this conundrum.
And there is a more important issue as far as the dry run is concerned – ensuring HIPs get a fair trial. The market sentiment is to condemn HIPs before they get off the ground. What’s needed is an objective assessment of whether the packs will achieve their intended results. Will they cut the number of failed transactions, save wasted costs and speed up the house buying process? Will analysis show them to be cost effective?

I’d like to know more about how the government intends to assess the packs after the dry run has been completed. It would be a pity if it is simply used as a way to identify obvious gremlins such as information suppliers not being able to communicate with each other in the same computer language or there being insufficient home inspectors.
The test must be comprehensive and assessed using agreed criteria. It must also be given a fair chance and not condemned as a failure before it has started.

Objectivity is needed by the government, estate agents, the lending industry, brokers and HIP providers.