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The value of independent reviews in strengthening codes of practice

The value of independent reviews in strengthening codes of practice

Noel Hunter OBE, Chairman of the Consumer Code for Home Builders, shares insights on the value of external review to ensure codes remain fit for purpose.

The one thing we can all be certain of is change. Whether it’s a change in regulations, customer needs, availability of goods, development of new services or simply better knowledge of a subject, as individuals and as organisations, we are always learning and developing. We need only to look at the significant advances in technology in recent years to understand how change in one area can impact multiple aspects of our home and working lives.

As our needs develop, so must codes of practice if we are to maintain strong protection for consumers and provide appropriate guidance to industry. When setting up the Consumer Code for Home Builders in 2010, we made provision for a triennial review to ensure our Code would always remain up to date and fit for purpose. Regularly code reviews are also a requirement of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute’s (CTSI) Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS). Over the years this review process has led us to make important changes such as enabling free access to our Independent Dispute Resolution Scheme for consumers and adapting to changes in the way builders share information with home buyers.

In recent years, there has been a growing understanding of customer needs, including the specific support that should be offered to consumers who may be vulnerable, as well as understanding more about how to make services accessible to all. All codes of conduct need mechanisms that allow them to adapt, improve and share learning to minimise the risk of consumer detriment.

Industry-specific changes play an important role too. We delayed our latest Code review while waiting to see the outcome of new government legislation that had been expected to introduce a statutory ombudsman for new homes, potentially with a single code. Although this hasn’t materialised, some changes have taken place and a new entrant to the market means we need to work hard to ensure consumers can clearly identify which code scheme their builder belongs to and what protection they have access to. We have just completed a comprehensive independent review of our Code which, among other updates, will align our code with other new homes codes where it is in the consumer’s interest to do so. Taking this action will help to minimise confusion for consumers and continue to encourage consistent high standards in the industry.

Valuing independence

Codes of practice can lead their own reviews, particularly those that benefit, as we do, from the independent assessment which is part of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute’s (CTSI) Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS). However, we have found considerable value in commissioning an independent chair to oversee our reviews. This helps to ensure we take full account of the views of different stakeholders and that our Management Board is appropriately challenged as we look to strengthen consumer protection.

Our two most recent reviews have been chaired by John Bridgeman CBE, former Director General of the Office of Fair Trading who brings a wealth of experience in consumer protection and codes of conduct. As a result, we have benefitted not only from John’s rigorous approach to our review, but also from his experience in other industries.

It is this independence and expertise that we also value as a CCAS-approved Code. Alongside our fellow approved codes, the annual CTSI audit considers both the content of our Code and how effectively it is applied, including the quality of our Independent Dispute Resolution Scheme and the sanctions we are able to apply if home builders fail to comply with the Code. This process serves as an annual ‘health check’ which, when combined with our own, more in-depth triennial review, gives us confidence that the Consumer Code for Home Builders remains fit for purpose in an ever changing landscape.

For codes looking to continuously improve and adapt to new requirements to support consumers, being willing to go beyond standard internal reviews and invite both independent scrutiny and external audits demonstrates a robust commitment to maintaining high standards.

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