UK watchdog investigates homebuilders over leasehold practices

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Britain’s competition regulator on Friday launched an investigation into four of the country’s biggest housebuilders, saying they may have broken a consumer protection law in relation to leasehold homes.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it was opening enforcement cases against Barratt Developments (BDEV.L), Persimmon Homes (PSN.L), Taylor Wimpey (TW.L) and Countryside Properties (CSPC.L).

The watchdog uncovered evidence of potentially unfair terms with regard to ground rents in leasehold contracts and potential mis-selling, it said.

“It is unacceptable for housing developers to mislead or take advantage of homebuyers,” Andrea Coscelli, CMA’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Shares of Britain’s biggest housebuilder Barratt fell 2.4% and Persimmon lost 2% while Taylor Wimpey and Countryside were down less than 1%.

The companies all said they were co-operating or engaging with the watchdog, with Taylor Wimpey adding that it would provide further information requested by the CMA in the coming weeks.

Persimmon in an emailed statement said it decided to stop selling leasehold houses where it owns the freehold in 2017.

“We believe these are known historic issues where companies have already taken corrective action. At this stage we see immaterial risk to earnings or requirement for provision,” said analysts at Credit Suisse.

The CMA said the possible outcomes of its investigation could include court action or legal commitments from companies to change their practices.

It will also investigate certain firms that bought freehold properties from these developers and was sending letters to a number of other developers, encouraging them to review their practices.

Homebuilders in the UK have been battered in recent years by the country’s decision to leave the European Union, while coronavirus restrictions added to those woes.

However, recovery was gathering pace with mortgage lender Nationwide saying this week house prices had leapt to hit an all-time high in August.

Britain gave homebuyers an incentive amid the crisis by cutting a tax for house purchases in July.

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