Changes that mean we will all suffer

The Home Information Pack issue is becoming increasingly farcical. Leaving aside the question of whether or not they are a good idea in the first place, the confusion that surrounds them is palpable.

If you mention HIPs to anyone in the industry, watch out for the flicker of panic in their eyes as they struggle to remember what they understand about the topic.

And even if they can remember something about HIPs you will notice a secondary catch of breath as they realise that what it was they thought they knew may have been rendered obsolete by yet another refinement to the government’s plan.

Initially, HIPs were going to contain a valuation report. Now they will not. Hopefully everyone knows that at least. But there have been other changes.

Initially, properties marketed before June 1 could remain on the market without HIPs until October 31 2007. This deadline has now slipped to March 31 2008.

It was first envisaged that prior to marketing a property a HIP would be required. Now documents can be compiled within 28 days except in exceptional circumstances – a convenient get-out clause not yet defined.

As the backlash against HIPs developed, the government deflected criticism and repositioned the project as part of a drive to reduce housing’s carbon footprint. Energy Performance Certificates were dress-ed up as the show ponies of the HIP circus. On her departmental website, housing minister Yvette Cooper says: “Most people have no idea about things like lagging in the loft when they buy a new home.

“But the EPC will tell people how they can save money on their fuel bills and cut their carbon emissions at the same time.”

Cooper’s statement shows that HIPs have changed from being an important way of bolstering consumer protection in the house buying process to being pamphlets containing home improvement tips.

This switch has cost the industry. Estate agents, surveyors, IT firms and others have spent time and money preparing for HIPs, only to watch them change before their eyes.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses tells of Actaeon who, while out hunting, stumbles accidentally upon the goddess Artemis bathing in the forest. Furious at being caught unprepared she turns Actaeon into a stag and he is torn apart by his own hounds.

The story encapsulates the arbitrary nature of human suffering, particularly the suffering that results when powerful figures make hasty decisions oblivious of the effects they will have on lesser beings. I wonder if anyone in the government reads Ovid.