Harron Homes promises that its newly built houses will “surpass all expectations”. The £324,995 home that James Uttley bought was certainly beyond his imaginings.
There was a large hole where the bathroom window should be, he says. No carpets had been laid and there was no sign of a fitted wardrobe for which he had paid an extra £1,000. Holes gaped in the brickwork, yellow foam from the roof spattered the windows and a fence had shaved two meters off a garden which had been advertised as being flat, but which had developed a significant tilt. Harron did install the missing window, but 10 months on Uttley is still waiting for the other problems to be rectified.
His neighbours on the Hazelmoor Fold development in Blackley, West Yorkshire – where there are 82 homes – have similar accounts, including floods and leaks. In 2015 a boundary wall collapsed, damaging three cars. Rather than resolve the problems Harron has written to residents banning them from calling customer services to complain. “Emails and phone calls have gone unanswered,” says Uttley, who moved his young family into the four-bed house in April last year. “Over the winter we discovered that there is no cavity wall insulation, the landing is severely sloping and the stairs uneven.”
Uttley’s ordeal highlights slipping standards as developers race to meet rising demand for new homes. A survey released this week by the National House Building Council (NHBC) shows that 98% of new-home buyers who responded reported defects and a quarter of those had identified more than 16. One of the UK’s largest developers, Bovis, recently set aside a £7m fund to repair substandard homes and announced it would scale back its projects after claims it paid purchasers to move into unfinished homes to meet completion targets.
“Standards are falling all the time as demand from shareholders takes priority over quality,” says Phil Waller, a retired construction manager who runs advice and campaigning website brand-newhomes.co.uk. “It used to be unheard of for people to have to move out of their home while it’s repaired, but now it happens far too often.”
Peter Lloyd (not his real name) says he faces leaving his house in Worcestershire because the developer, Bellway, used substandard mortar. Roof tiles were also wrongly fitted and there are gaps around inadequately measured windows. He has spent £1,800 in surveys since moving in in March 2015. “We’ve previously asked Bellway to put in writing to confirm they’ll do all the outstanding work and exactly how they plan to do it,” he says. “They have so far refused.”
The NHBC says it has appointed a specialist engineer to assess his house and will require Bellway to carry out its recommendations. Bellway has failed to respond to requests for a comment.
Lloyd’s and Uttley’s ordeals highlight a gap in the law that leaves purchasers of six-figure new homes with less protection than supermarket shoppers. The Consumer Rights Directive, which enshrines the rights of customers, does not cover property. When things go wrong, residents on newly completed developments have to rely on a 10-year warranty insured by the NHBC or another approved warranty provider.
The 10-year promise could be misleading – developers only have to rectify problems that arise in the first two years following completion. After that, purchasers have to claim on the warranty provider’s insurance which only covers serious structural issues. As a last resort, new homeowners can appeal to the Consumer Code for Home Builders adjudication scheme introduced by the industry in 2010 as part of a voluntary bid to shake up standards.
However, it costs £120 to lodge a complaint via the scheme, whose findings are not legally binding, and it only applies to developments registered with the three main warranty providers, NHBC, LABC Warranty and Premier Guarantee. A parliamentary inquiry last July found that the scheme does not offer adequate redress and called for the establishment of a new homes ombudsman to address serious failings in the building sector.
Most of the big-name developers have attracted criticism for quality failures, but Leeds-based Harron Homes appears to have particular problems. In 2015 Kirklees Council ordered it to stop work on a development in Huddersfield while it sorted the drainage after residents reported flooding and sink holes.
In Wrexham, Clwyd, Harron Homes stopped work on a half-finished estate in 2007 and are yet to return. Householders living next to it complain of open sewers and rats blighting the community. Last month their MP Susan Elan Jones presented a petition to parliament asking for the government to enforce the completion of unfinished estates, or the gifting of the land to local authorities or housing associations.
Readers who have contacted The Observer – 23 people – have reported collapsing ceilings, ill-fitted bathrooms and unconnected drain pipes in estates elsewhere across the north.
Heather Clarke (not her real name) says she and her family arrived with their removal van to find their house at Oak Dean Mount in Rotherham unfinished. “The garden was a lake, there were massive holes at the side of the garage doors, the top windows weren’t filled on the outside, brickwork and tiles were chipped and the render falling off,” she says. “The place needed replastering and repainting, a leak had damaged the kitchen, bathrooms had vinyl instead of tiles and there were chips and dents.”
Two days later, in a rain storm, water poured down the sloping drive into the garage, ruining £1,600-worth of belongings the family had stored there.
Residents at Harron’s Edenbrook Vale scheme in Pontefract recently held a protest outside the sales office after enduring months of leaks, malfunctioning heating and flooded gardens. Others have yet to get as far as moving in. One reader exchanged contracts for a Harron house in Meadow View, Barnsley, last April. A year on she’s no closer to completion. “We’re being told the neighbouring house must be rebuilt after a fire and we can’t move in until that’s done,” she says. “We’ve asked Harron if we can transfer our deposit to another property but we’ve not been given any answers except that because we have exchanged contracts there is nothing we can do.”
Harron Homes was established in 1995 by brothers Paul and Stephen Harrison, and as the company’s standards apparently slip its profits are soaring. Last year turnover was £93.6m, up 24% from 2015, allowing the brothers take-home pay of more than £1.5m.
A spokesperson for the company tells me: “We are working with our customers to undertake the general snagging work, which is commonplace with new- build homes. We do everything within our power to finish work in the shortest possible time frame. However, contractually we are unable to offer customers fixed completion dates until a property has been signed off by the NHBC or Local Authority Building Control.”
Both the NHBC and LABC say that every home registered with their warranty scheme is inspected at various stages of construction, but these are visual checks to assess that they are a standard insurance risk rather than quality control.
“It is the builder’s responsibility for ensuring that homes conform to the building regulations and NHBC standards,” says a spokesperson.