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Housing probe quizzes thousands

Builders of all sizes nationwide to receive questionnaires from Office of Fair Trading in standards review

The Office of Fair Trading will quiz 7,000 firms in an investigation into poor standards in house building.

The watchdog will mail out questionnaires to firms of all sizes later this month as part of its ongoing probe into the £20 billion industry.

The OFT wants to hear how the industry is dealing with warranties, building control, consumer issues and, for those operating in England, competition and planning.

Firms will also be asked about the buying process and availability of new homes, as well as build quality and redress if something goes wrong.

The probe, the first of its kind into house building, was announced in the summer after concerns about falling standards and lack of competition.

The OFT has been keeping a close eye on the sector following a review three years ago, led by economist Kate Barker.

She recommended the introduction of a code of conduct among a number of measures aimed at improving build quality and supply.

But an OFT official has criticised the industry for not drawing up a code of conduct and for making little progress in raising consumer satisfaction.

Antoinette Graves, an OFT team leader on the house building study, told CN: “We don’t think things have improved sufficiently since 2004.

“The Barker Review called for an industry code of conduct and it hasn’t done so.

“There may be internal codes of practice in individual firms but there is no specific customer charter.”
The Home Builders Federation defended the industry. A spokesman said: “We have had a voluntary code of conduct for members since February 2006, and we would say customer service has improved.”

At least 700 responses are needed by the OFT for the survey to be measured as statistically valid. Builders have until the end of January to reply.

The questionnaire is running alongside a consumer study of 1,000 people and a survey of all 388 local planning authorities in England. The full OFT report is due next summer.

OFT Activity

March 2006 Raids head office of Mowlem. Morgan Sindall’s Bluestone subsidiary also visited as part of probe into possible bid rigging

August Recruiters Hays, AndersElite and Eden Brown admit to being investigated

March 2007 Says 57 construction firms raided and 45 more under investigation

May/June Kier, Rok, Galliford Try, Interserve, Balfour Beatty, Renew and Connaught say they are under investigation

June Probe into house building