Quality issues highlight need for new homes ombudsman

The government shoud appoint a new homes ombudsman, says Philip Waller. Picture: PA
The government shoud appoint a new homes ombudsman, says Philip Waller. Picture: PA
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New home owners in Queensbury still have snagging issues and complaints about quality 15 months after moving into their houses. Sharon Dale reports.

A Harron home boasts unrivalled attention to detail and superior specification, according to the company website, but angry homeowners at Queensbury Gardens beg to differ.

Michael and Lynda Tidgwell registered 36 separate complaints about their new home, ranging from shoddy workmanship and a wobbly staircase to cracks in the walls. The couple finally moved into the £225,000 house 15 months ago after a delayed completion date, and still have problems that are unresolved.

“The stress of it all has made me ill. I thought this was going to be my dream home but it’s been soul destroying,” says Lynda. “The stairs still move and the workmanship inside the house is awful. In my opinion there has been no quality control and Harron’s customer services don’t want to know.

“Some of the problems have eventually been rectified but others haven’t. There was no splashback behind the cooker hob for over six months and when they fitted one it was the wrong size and we still haven’t had it replaced. Every single light switch was cock-eyed and we have replaced those and all the plug sockets ourselves because they were covered in paint. I’ve even bought myself a Black and Decker sander and I’m slowly working my way round all the skirting boards, which are so rough with wood filler I cut my hands when wiping them.”

The company say the Tidgwells’ property “requires the rectification of some areas of minor shrinkage, which although falls under the homeowners’ remit to rectify, we have agreed to complete.”

Mark Rushworth, another resident on the estate, has a blog detailing the snagging issues he has had and continues to have with his Harron home, although the company says it is “not aware of any outstanding issues with the last items that were reported having been dealt with in March of this year.”

Richard Scatchard and his wife say their problems with Harron started before they got the keys to their new £210,000 detached house in Queensbury Gardens, Queensbury, near Bradford. The couple reserved their home off-plan in May 2015 with a moving date of October 18 the same year.

On December 17, Harron Homes asked them to complete on the unfinished house. “We said ‘no’ and they offered us £5,000 to complete by December 31, promising that the house would be finished by January 15. We took the deal but when we came to move in, workmen were still in the property and all of the en-suite bathroom furniture was laid out unprotected on my brand new bedroom carpet. When I complained they offered me extras for the house that I still haven’t got,” says Richard, who has a list of ongoing issues, including draughts and the “atrocious finish”. As a builder himself, he is well qualified to comment.

“During last winter and with a newborn baby in the house we had to endure awful conditions. Cold air leaks in through the windows and makes the house like an ice box when the heating is not on and it is like an oven in summer, so there is clearly a problem with the insulation. I have contacted Harron Homes multiple times about these and other problems and nothing gets done. I have also asked for the energy performance certificate and the air test certificate for this house to no avail,” he says.

“My wife and I wish we’d never bought this place. The finish is shameful and we still have holes in the ceiling where Harron Homes’ operatives have tried investigating a problem and it’s just been left and not fixed.”

The company says it will “aim to quickly complete the two items that have since been brought to our attention in June of this year.”

Leeds-based Harron Homes Ltd was established in 1995 by brothers Paul and Stephen Harrison, who are the directors of the business. It is one of Yorkshire’s fastest growing companies with a turnover last year that grew 55 per cent to £145,768m with a net profit of just over £17m. The highest paid director was paid £1,018,000.

The firm, which operates in Yorkshire and the north Midlands, is no stranger to controversy. In 2015 Kirklees Council ordered it to stop work on a development in Huddersfield after residents reported flooded garages and sinkholes. Residents at the Edenbrook Vale scheme in Pontefract staged a protest outside the sales office after months of leaks, boiler issues and flooded gardens.

In response to the latest complaints from Queensbury Gardens, where houses are still being built, a Harron Homes spokesperson says: “We aim to ensure that every single Harron home is completed to the highest standard and with the utmost attention to detail, and we regret that some of our

customers feel that their new homes did not meet our shared expectations.”

The company launched an internal review earlier this year and says: “After identifying some areas for improvement, we introduced a series of robust new procedures, the Harron Homes Quality Guarantee. This is a significant investment in our quality insurance infrastructure that has now been ongoing for several months.

“Every home will be inspected at each key stage of the build process, against over 500 individual quality control check points. As of July 2017, all customers will also be assigned a dedicated customer relation manager, whose remit will include personally checking every property we build against an additional 80-point check list before the purchaser is invited to inspect their new home.”

The company believes that the new procedures should improve quality and customer satisfaction.

The government recently promised to clamp down on developers who build poor quality homes. Retired construction manager and new homes expert Philip Waller runs the website brand-newhomes.co.uk and campaigns for better quality new-builds. He says the government should appoint a New Homes Ombudsman with the power to award compensation.

“I believe this would force housebuilders to look at what they do and change overnight. I recommended this at the all-party parliamentary group inquiry into new homes and it was the number one key recommendation in the report that followed in July last year. Since then, despite knowing of the problems, the government has done nothing at all to force housebuilders to improve.”

Mr Waller also suggests withdrawing the Help to Buy scheme from offenders who are regularly reported to the ombudsman and are indifferent to carrying out remedial works with the required degree of urgency.

He adds: The government is fixated on building increasing quantities of new homes at any cost to achieve its own impossible target of one million new homes by 2020. Nothing is being done to improve the quality of new homes and give buyers greater protection and recourse to independent redress and compensation. Building a defect-free new home is not impossible. All that is required is sufficient time and a desire, from the CEO to the site labourer, to build homes that everyone can be proud of. Unfortunately it’s all about money and numbers.”