Thursday, 20 May 2010

The hipless 3,000 - a step in the right direction

The decision to scrap HIPs (home information packs) has caused no discernible howls of protest. There was always something fundamentally absurd about HIPs, although in one respect they were a reasonable idea.

When someone is deciding whether to buy a house or flat he will want to know various things about the property. Obviously he will need to be assured that the vendor has the right to sell it and he will need to know whether it is freehold or leasehold and, if the latter, the terms of the lease. He might also want to know something about the condition of the property and whether any recent work done to it complied with Building Regulations, but he might not. A HIP had to contain information on all these things together with a report on how "energy-efficient" the property is. Energy efficiency certificates will still be required as a matter of EU law, it is the other stuff that is no longer compulsory. Like so many elements of the interfering nanny State, failure to provide a HIP could result in a fixed penalty notice being issued to the defaulting vendor.

The problem with requiring the vendor to supply all that other information up-front is that any prospective purchaser will have to check some of it for himself anyway and might not be interested in the rest. No purchaser in his right mind will buy a property without being satisfied from his own enquiries about exactly what he is buying and that the purchaser has the right to sell it. No sane solicitor or licensed conveyancer acting for a prospective purchaser will rely on documents produced by the vendor as evidence of the right to sell, he will undertake his own search at the Land Registry - in fact this is done online and takes only moments. A conveyancer will also undertake his own searches of relevant local authority registers to ensure there is no risk to his client from such matters as threatened compulsory purchase or breaches by the existing owner of Building Regulations. Although the vendor's HIP will almost certainly tell the truth about these things, a conveyancer who does not undertake these simple searches himself would be liable to a claim from his client if a problem later emerged. Requiring the vendor to undertake these searches and disclose the results simply results in the same work being done twice.

So far as the condition of the property is concerned, a purchaser who wants to know something can ask. If the vendor refuses to answer his question he will, no doubt, walk away from the negotiation. But not all purchasers are interested in the property's condition because many plan to make changes once they move in and the current condition is pretty much irrelevant. Requiring the vendor to volunteer irrelevant information is a pure waste of time and requiring him to volunteer relevant information achieves nothing other than a possible speeding of the sale process by a day or two. In fact many conveyancers have followed the pre-HIP practice of making specific requests for information their clients want to know whether or not it was included in the HIP. They formed the view that it is better to have a specific answer to a specific question, so HIPs resulted in duplicated work again.

The one, limited, way in which HIPs are a good idea is in relation to properties with a problem (perhaps a new gas appliance was installed but not certified y a competent person or there is a proposal to build a sewage works behind the rear garden wall). It does happen that purchasers are interested in a property only to discover a problem later and back out after they have incurred time and cost; alerting them to such a sticking-point would prevent them even making an offer. Although this happens it is not common and is hardly a good reason for requiring all vendors to spend money on a HIP for fear of a fixed penalty.

It has been said by the Director General of the Association of Home Information Pack Providers (AHIPP) that 3,000 jobs will be lost and 10,000 will be affected (I presume he meant affected for the worse). I find that comment interesting in several respects.

First it is interesting that AHIPP exists at all.

Secondly, HIPs will still exist for those who want them. Any vendor who thinks it is a good idea to provide a HIP can still do so, yet AHIPP says 3,000 jobs will be lost. I infer from this that he knows most vendors will not want to provide a HIP and most potential purchasers will not be deterred by the absence of a HIP. If ever you want proof that HIPs are a piece of pointless bureaucracy, the Director General has provided it.

Thirdly, the lost jobs will be lost because they should never have been created in the first place. I have commented before on the cruelty of creating non-jobs. In that piece I discussed the public sector but the same point applies to the hipless 3,000. They entered this field of work in good faith because they were told it was important work of benefit to the country, no doubt many saw it as a stable job and a step-up from what they did before. As it is they will be out of work because there is no real demand for what they did. Time will tell what they find to do instead but I have no doubt many will end up worse off than if they had never entered the field in the first place.

Fourthly, I wonder how many ministers from the last government will condemn this as "taking money out of the economy" or will say it should not be done now because it will "threaten the recovery". Not many, I'd wager, because the jobs are in the private sector and only the State matters to them.

What I find of most interest is not the reaction of AHIPP but the fact, for fact it is, that there will be no outcry over this. Indeed there will be widespread relief that an unnecessary burden has been lifted. It is Step One on a very long walk.


Stan said...

I was never a fan of the HIP, but the scandal here is that a considerable number of people will have paid a lot of money to be trained as inspectors and they won't get their money back.

A friend of mine used his redundancy pay to retrain for this (against my advice, btw) and now he is going to be cut off at the knees and for what?

Apologies for the long rant, but this is such a sop that I'm amazed anyone fell for it - and you least of all, FB.

Getting rid of HIPs will make no difference to home sales, it won't make any difference to house prices and it won't make any difference to the deficit or debt of this country. It is a meaningless, throwaway gesture that will have a devastating effect on real peoples real lives.

Meanwhile there are countless quangos spending £150 billion a year doing the jobs that we employ and pay our politicians and civil servants to do - and on top of that there are the "consultants" hired by government departments and quangos which cost upwards of £50 billion - and this government's first act was to create more.


I work for a large corporation and when they want to cut costs (as they regularly do) they have a simple mechanism for doing so. They tell every department to cut costs by x per cent. How they do that is up to them, but they must do it.

Cameron has the opportunity to do the same. A simple instruction to all quangos could be issued now telling them that their budget will be cut by 20% this year and by a further 5% in each of the next ten years. How those quangos cope with that reduction in budget is up to them, but they must do it or the managers will be replaced with someone who can.

That would equate to a £30 billion saving immediately without having to cut "frontline" jobs or services. It's still not enough, but it's better than a paltry £6 billion!

And while they are doing that you can start the cull of the quangos and save even more.

HIPS shouldn't have been brought in - they were a stupid idea - but once they were it strikes me as rather callous to dispose of them when people have invested much of their own money and future in them. Those who work in this field are not employed by the state - most of them are self-employed.

Getting rid of unnecessary regulatory burden is, of course, a good thing if it helps business and trade - but getting rid of one that makes no difference one way or another is as pointless as bringing it in in the first place. No one benefits, but plenty lose out.

It's a total sop, FB - and the fact that such a meaningless gesture was included in the coalition document demonstrates the contempt for conservative opinion that Cameron has. Please don't justify it be giving it the credence it does not deserve!

Apologies for the long rant, but the coalition document has got me quite riled up. Such is the totality of the conservative surrender that they are prepared to clutch at the flimsiest of straws leaves me fuming.

Umbongo said...


HIPs are useless and unwanted. If they were wanted, being compulsory or otherwise would make no difference. At the time they were brought in (and consistently thereafter) the Conservatives - in a unique instance of constituting an "opposition" - said that if they ever achieved office they would abolish HIPs (a point which was mentioned here three years ago) - and so they have. Since this threat to the livelihood of the providers of HIPs was well-known, anyone spending money on acquiring the HIPs qualification has only himself to blame. Frankly, anyone who gets himself a qualification so that he can both ease, and capitalise on, the application of an unwarranted, intrusive, expensive and authoritarian piece of legislation deserves all he gets.

However, you make one salient point: the lack of weeping and wailing over the disappearance of 3,000 non-jobs is because they are in the private sector. If and when queues of redundant diversity outreach workers and community organisers start forming outside JobsPlus you won't be able to read the Guardian or listen to the BBC without reading or hearing the wailing about the heartless "New Thatcherites" currently in power.

john miller said...

Stan, I have to say, I'm getting a bit fed up with this.

Every time I want to make a brilliant, salient point, you're there first. Can I send some Valium round, or at least a healthy dose of sleeping tablets?


An aquaintance has spent £8,000 (oh yes!) "training" to be a HIPs inspector. This was sold to him on the basis that: "You get £500 (!) per property and you can do 3 (!) a day, so in a couple of weeks you'll get your money back".

Of course, you can identify a non-job fairly easily because:

1. They are very easy to do

2. You need no qualifications

3. The absence of the job will not be noticed by most of the population.

Game, Set and, thank you Mr Deighton, Match...

TastesLikeChicken said...

The HIPs inspectors are getting their just rewards. F*ck em. They decided to suckle on the teat of the centralised freebie drip. Now it's been cut off - Oh Diddums.

TheFatBigot said...

Thank you all for your comments.

Mr Stan I share the view that it is awful that people will lose jobs they have taken in good faith. But that also applies to the quangocrats you and I both want to see removed from the public payroll. The real problem is that they were given false hope by being non-jobs. That was the point I made in my earlier piece that I linked to.

Stan said...

I agree that getting rid of non-jobs is essential, FB - but there are non-jobs and there are non-jobs. The non-jobs I want to see go are those that directly place a drain on the public purse - not something that is about individual, private transactions.

It just doesn't help.

At all.

In any way.