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Beckett defending hips

2010-04-23

The current government introduced a new regulation a few years ago: Home Information Packs (HIPs). Those selling their houses must have one produced. It consists of all sorts of information about property including copies of evidence of title, sustainability and energy use information and searches for things like drainage. It must be provided by estate agents to any potential buyer on request.

On the 20th January, 2009, Tory whip Angela Watkinson asked Margaret Beckett, the Housing minister, about Home Information Packs. There are a few bits of logic that need to be nitpicked!

Angela Watkinson opened:

[Will Margaret Beckett] use her powers under the Housing Act 2004 to suspend the requirement for sellers to provide home information packs[?]

Beckett responds:

We have no plans to suspend home information packs.

Okay, that is straight forward enough. Watkinson continues:

Surely the Minister has realised by now that home information packs were a bad idea from the outset. Even when the housing market was buoyant, neither sellers nor buyers had the slightest interest in them. Now that the housing market is so stagnant that estate agents are going out of business, the Minister could take this opportunity to abolish the utterly superfluous home information packs without loss of face. Will she do that?

A fair point. Beckett attempts to defend HIPs:

First, let me say to the hon. Lady that the intention—and, indeed, the effect—of home information packs is to provide much needed information for consumers on the most important purchase of their lives. She talks as though home information packs have had no impact and no benefit, but 1.2 million such packs have been issued. They are the most simple way of getting information for that most important purchase. She may feel that it is not important to protect consumers; consumer representatives do not [agree with her], and nor do the Government.

(Emphasis mine.)

The bolded statement doesn’t actually justify HIPs. Simply pointing out that 1.2 million HIPs have been issued does not mean that HIPs are effective or worthwhile or ought not to be abolished. Wikipedia informs me that the Backstreet Boys have sold over 130 million records worldwide, but that doesn’t mean they are any good. In the case of HIPs, since it is a mandatory requirement that all people selling residential property have a HIP produced, that doesn’t really justify them either.

To be fair, Beckett did say that 1.2 million packs have been issued not produced, but that doesn’t mean much. It is fairly likely that during the period in which HIPs have been required, every person who makes a serious offer on residential property will have been given the HIP for the property – it may just be a routine part of sale rather than something they explicitly requested.

If Beckett wants to justify HIPs, appealing to the number of HIPs is no way to do so. How could she justify it? I can think of two simple ways: firstly, by showing that HIPs contain information that was not previously accessible to home buyers and that is of some importance in protecting buyers. Secondly, she could perform a study on home buyers and ask them whether the HIPs have been useful.

Beckett’s last sentence is, of course, a failure of the principle of charity. But this is politics, right? That is pretty much the modus operandi of partisan politics.

Let’s continue.

Beckett is later questioned by Anne Main, Conservative MP for St. Albans:

I pressed the Minister on this issue when she appeared before the Communities and Local Government Committee on 27 October. At that time, she estimated that £5 million had been spent on marketing the packs, to provide a benefit of only £30 per pack. I said that I was concerned that the packs were becoming outdated in a slack market, to which she said:

“Of course that is an issue that we are looking at with the relevant authorities”.

She accepted that it would be a problem in a slack market. What exactly has she done since then to ensure that the arrangements are not affected by the slack market?

Did Beckett accept Anne Main’s concerns? The quoted statement doesn’t really seem to suggest that it does. Saying “that is an issue” doesn’t mean that it is a problem. The sense of the quoted statement seems to suggest that the concern Main raised wasn’t misplaced. Beckett seems like she might have given an inch, Main then took a mile – or at least a few more inches than Beckett gave to the committee.

Grant Shapps, Shadow Housing Minister, asked this of the Minister:

I am not convinced that the Minister really believes that home information packs are the right way forward. If they are so beneficial to the housing market, why was the former grace and favour residence of Mr. Blunkett—Government house in Pimlico—placed on the market by the Minister without a fully completed home information pack?

Slightly amusing but irrelevant. Said problem can be explained away as administrative cockup. This is a bit like saying that government anti-smoking campaigns don’t work because you can find an MP on the Government benches who smokes cigarettes occasionally.


I apologise for the terrible pun in the headline. I blame it on the BBC News story Hips extended to three-bed homes.

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