Trying to unravel HIPs

In what can best be described as a last ditch attempt, with just 14 days before the official launch date, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors announced this week that it was seeking a judicial review over Home Information Packs (HIPs). It Is the first time in 136 years that they have taken such a measure. Their quibbles? There are not enough inspectors to carry out the energy checks and a failure to properly consult on the proposals.

To say that the introduction of HIPs has caused one or two ministers in the Government a few headaches since the idea to speed up the buying and selling process was first mooted in Labour?s 1997 manifesto is to put it very mildly. Last July, they were forced to surrender what many believe to have been the only element of HIPs that had any teeth: the Home Condition Report. Mounting complaints that buyers would not trust it, fears that a shortage of inspectors would only cause delay and mortgage companies insisting they would still demand an independent report rendered the HCR redundant.

So the Government seemingly took a different tack.

On the wave of publicity surrounding the environment and climate change, it wouldn?t take the greatest cynic to see that a drive to make our properties more energy efficient is now the reason for bringing in HIPs. The new size-zero style HIP has been slimmed down to include the bare basics (land registry documents and local searches, work previously dug out by the solicitor and wrapped in their conveyancing fees) and the new Energy Performance Certificate.

Housing minister Yvette Cooper is evangelical about the latter. Last month she said ?EPCs are the single most important element. Indeed, they are the only new compulsory element. Otherwise, HIPs simply collect together the legal information and searches that are already provided and paid for by the home-buying and selling process.?

While we welcome the drive to cut carbon emissions worldwide, and accept that, like all good processes, this should start at home, the Energy Performance Certificate presents several problems on both a national and a Country Life reader level. Firstly, energy assessors have to be trained to undertake the EPC (according to one source, a 12-week training course which costs £1,995 + partial VAT). Since the Government U-turn on this was less than 12 months ago, there are not enough assessors to report on the 2.4m properties that are sold every year.

Secondly, the types of properties that we like to live in tend to be on the draughty side. A sure-fire way to ensure a property is Grade G listed (the lowest grade) will include any house that possesses what most of us would regard as characteristics of a charming (if expensive to run) property: a boiler dating back to the Second World War and Georgian sash windows that rattle in the night.

While the energy assessors will helpfully suggest necessary changes in their report that would raise the energy rating of a property, this often involves double glazing, wall insulation and installing photovoltaic cells: not so easy when a building is listed.

There is plenty of confusion surrounding the HIPs (in one recent survey, 36% of respondents said they thought the acronym HIP stood for ?Homeland Immigration Policy?). It also seems inevitable that things will not go very smoothly for vendors from June 1 (a tip: if a property can be proved to have been marketed this month, it has a HIP exemption for the next seven months) . Would it not be simpler for the Government to, as the Conservatives suggested in the Commons last week, insist that from a certain date (once appropriate time has lapsed for training to be undertaken) that the EPC should be carried out by the surveyors at the same time as they conduct the building survey?