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Affordable housing numbers improve, but quality issues continue to plague the sector

What do you get when house building regulations sharpen up and the demand for affordable housing rises? Unfortunately, the answer might be: builders who deliver substandard properties that meet requirements on paper but are a downright nightmare to the people who live in them.

Experts in the UK are warning that as the demand for housing rises to unforeseen levels, a crisis is looming. Thousands of buyers face moving into abysmal properties due to competition among developers to meet demand. Many of the problems are caused by improper or not enough thermal insulation.

The UK has seen a bumper year in 2014/15, with the number of new homes in England going up by 25 per cent according to the latest government figures. This was the biggest increase in 28 years. But all is not as well as these figures imply.  

A total of 170,690 homes were built during the period, according to data from the Department for Communities and Local Government, and an impressive 155,080 were newly built dwellings, but there will be unexpected costs on the foreseeable horizon for the owners of many of the new abodes.

An investigation by the Guardian has found that 38 per cent of buyers already shun new builds because of suspected quality issues, especially with insulation and energy provisions.

The newspaper cites a survey carried out by the HomeOwners Alliance, which champions the rights of homeowners. "We need more new homes, but ones that are built to last generations, not for a quick profit," said a spokesperson for the organisation.

How imperative it is to be aware of these problems, becomes clear when the legal implications of buying a property are reviewed.

The fact that property is excluded from the Sale and Supply of Goods Act, which offers legal rights when problems occur, poses a real obstacle to home owners' rights. They rely instead on the ten-year Buildmark warranty provided by the National House Building Council (NHBC), which in reality amounts to very little protection. If a defect in a new home comes to light in the first two years the builder is obliged to resolve it; after that, owners claim on NHBC insurance, which only covers structural issues.

The NHBC is backed by developers, and home owners are calling for an impartial government-funded regulator to replace it. "We are increasingly hearing from people who have tried to get their problems resolved through NHBC or the developers, but are hitting their heads against a brick wall. Those who have used the help-to-buy scheme feel duped into thinking that those developers backed by government must adhere to good quality standards, but find out that is not the case," says the spokeswoman for the HomeOwners Alliance.

This problem has surfaced previously. In 2010, the government issued the  Consumer Code for Home Builders after it appeared that 70 per cent of new homes suffer snagging problems and that buyers were left without statutory redress. The code offers member builders with a code of conduct, and offers dispute resolution, but it is voluntary and, like the NHBC, regulated by the building industry.