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My new build home has problems, what can I do and what are my legal and consumer rights?

With new build developments springing up across the country to meet ambitious housing targets, there's a steady supply of people getting their hands on the keys to their dream home.

But what should home buyers in England do if they come across a problem with their purchase and the dream becomes a nightmare?

What can home owners do if they feel that their property hasn't been finished to the required standard?
What can home owners do if they feel that their property hasn't been finished to the required standard?

I have a problem with my new home where can I get help?

If you've either bought or plan on buying a new home, the Consumer Code for Housebuilders is there to support you.

Applying to all home builders which are registered with the UK's home warranty bodies, it came into effect back in 2010.

The code is there to reinforce 'best practice' among companies and makes sure those buying a new home are treated fairly and remain fully informed about the process both before and after signing contracts.

Representatives from Trading Standards departments and Citizens Advice, along with other professional advisors, all sit on the advisory board for the Code to help cover all areas associated with buying a home.

The code will guide you through what to expect from your purchase, what levels of service you should be entitled to, and the steps you can take if something goes wrong.

Crucially, under the Code, all builders signed-up to it are obliged to have a process for dealing with complaints, and this is where it can support you the most if there's ever a problem.

The Consumer Code for Housebuilders can support those buying a new home. Image: iStock.
The Consumer Code for Housebuilders can support those buying a new home. Image: iStock.

How can the Consumer Code for Housebuilders support me?

According to its official website, the Code is designed to help people buying a new home understand what levels of service to expect from their house builder and to help them understand their consumer rights both before and after moving in.

According to consumer group Which? the Code's after-sales service applies to anyone who was the initial purchaser of the home but also to any subsequent buyers of that home within the first two years of the initial purchase.

Until the Code was introduced, says the official website, a buyer who felt that they had a claim against their home builder as a result of a builder's action or inaction, is likely to have been forced to take a case to court if the matter was not covered by any home warranty scheme.

But under the code everyone's responsibilities are felt to be more clearly laid out and there is also a quick Independent Dispute Resolution Scheme available that can determine people's responsibilities when there is doubt, negating the need for any legal action.

According to the Code – "the scheme applies to complaints made up to two years from the date on the home warranty body's insurance certificate, which defines the start of cover, about defects or damage caused by a breach of its technical requirements, and has a maximum award of £15,000".

Structural issues, such as those involving walls, windows or the chimney breast, are supported by a warranty. Image: iStock.
Structural issues, such as those involving walls, windows or the chimney breast, are supported by a warranty. Image: iStock.

Does my new home have a warranty?

One of the big attractions of buying a new home, points out Which?, is the peace of mind that comes with purchasing a property which is coming with a warranty.

The vast majority of new build homes, details the consumer group, have a 10-year warranty for building problems that tend to be covered by an insurance policy plus a developer’s warranty – usually lasting around two years – for smaller issues such as those related to fixtures and fittings.

While a builder's warranty is normally comprehensive and should iron out any issues with items inside the home during the first couple of years, after around 24 months it will provide little support.

At that stage home buyers would need to look at the insurance cover they have been provided with via the home warranty provider – normally through a company such as the National House Building Council (NHBC).

While it runs for longer, this traditionally relates to more structural issues such as problems with the foundations, walls, glazing or chimney breast.

Snagging issues can be identified both before and after moving in
Snagging issues can be identified both before and after moving in

I have issues with fittings and fixtures?

When you look around your new build home just prior to moving in it is common place to start with that is known as a snagging list that identifies any outstanding issues.

It is worth noting that the National House Building Council recommends that homes under construction should be checked around five to six times at all crucial times in the build.

Home buyers should also be provided with the results of a snagging survey before moving in, which should also identify if there are any problems.

If you had a surveyor look at the finish on your property, your solicitor can also pass a copy of this survey to the builder or developer's solicitor to help ensure any identified problems can get dealt with.

However smaller issues with fittings or fixtures might not be obvious straight away and problems relating to light switches, hinges, doors or taps may only become apparent once you spend more time in the property.

If you later discover these problems, in the first instance you need to contact the housebuilder and ask them to fix them.

The advice is to talk to the builder straight away and ask them to address matters – not least because it is easier and more straightforward for them to send in workers while they are perhaps still on site.

Within the first two years, it is widely accepted that the builder must rectify these issues.

But if problems have been reported and the company you're dealing with have either failed to rectify them in a reasonable time or are unable to rectify them due to insolvency, you should contact your home warranty provider for further help.

It may be able to help or offer advice through its own dispute resolution service, while on some occasions they may be able to complete the work for you if there are reasons why the builder is not able to.

Sometimes issues arise after moving in. Image: iStock.
Sometimes issues arise after moving in. Image: iStock.

How can I used the Independent Dispute Resolution Scheme?

Under the Housebuilders' Code, as detailed above, all builders signed up to the agreement must have a comprehensive system for dealing with complaints.

But if a buyer isn't happy with this response they can contact their home warranty body no later than 12 months, say the rules, after the builder's final response to the original complaint.

The warranty body, says the Code, will then most likely either choose to deal with the complaint under the existing terms of the warranty or provide the home buyer with an application form and a set of adjudication rules to enable the issue to be referred to the Code's Independent Dispute Resolution Scheme.

Buyers can only refer their complaint to the Independent Dispute Resolution Scheme after 56 calendar days have passed since first raising it with the builder and no later than 12 months after the builder's final response.

According to an outline of the complaints procedure online, on the Code's website, all disputes are resolved using an adjudication process.

This means that a trained adjudicator will review written submissions from both parties before making a decision based on his or her conclusions. The adjudicator can decide whether or not a home buyer has a legitimate dispute - and has faced a financial loss - as a result of their builder not complying with the Code's requirements.

However, says the website, it is for the home buyer to prove that there has been a breach of the Code and if they are making a claim for financial loss they must be able to provide evidence.

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