Picture of Claire Whyley, Consumer Representative on the Consumer Code for Home Builders Management Board.

Claire is one of the newest members of the Code Board, joining the team as an independent consumer expert in December 2023. Read on to find out what prompted Claire to join the Code and the experience and consumer insight she brings to Board discussions.  

How did you find yourself working in consumer protection? 

I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career when I was thinking about going to university, but by sheer chance, I came across one of the very first modular degrees which led to a degree in Applied Social Science. This gave me the opportunity to study subjects like research methods, policy analysis, politics and public policy. During my final year I discovered the critical importance of social research in achieving real policy change in areas that really matter, and that was it for me! I started my career researching issues around poverty and social justice which, over time, highlighted the importance of ensuring all consumers can access the goods and services they need and get a good deal from them.    

What are you most proud of in your career 

Quite near the start of my career I played a key role in developing and researching financial exclusion, which wasn’t even a recognised term until a small number of researchers and academics pushed it to the top of the political agenda through ground breaking quantitative and qualitative research. As a result of this work, a colleague and I set up the Personal Finance Research Centre at the University of Bristol, which recently celebrated its 25th birthday, and led HM Treasury to set up a Financial Inclusion Taskforce. I am hugely proud to have been part of these initiatives.  

I’m also incredibly proud of the work I do at the Competition and Markets Authority as part of its Independent Panel of decision-makers. In this role I’ve worked on some of the most complex merger investigations in the world – Sainsbury’s/Asda is one example – and to advocate for consumers in a whole range of markets, from sportswear to food delivery to mobile ecosystems. This work makes a huge difference to millions of people, helping to ensure that consumers get fair prices, good service, reliable standards and innovation they deserve. I feel privileged to be part of it. 

How important do you believe codes of practice are in protecting consumers? 

Codes of practice are an important and essential tool in the consumer protection toolbox, in both statutory and self-regulatory regimes. Codes of practice can be developed, implemented and updated more quickly than statutory regulations so they can respond and adapt to consumer needs and market developments as and when they arise. Perhaps most importantly, codes of practice can be written and presented in a language and format that make it easier for consumers and their advocates to understand their rights, and the routes open to them should things go wrong.     

What prompted you to join the Code’s Management Board?   

Buying a home is such a critical and emotive issue, especially in the context of new homes where problems and complications are not always evident at the point of purchase and can be difficult to resolve later. The Consumer Code for Home Builders, working closely with the warranty bodies and building industry, has made significant inroads in setting and monitoring standards in new build housing and – crucially – providing a dispute resolution service for consumers who have been unable to resolve problems with their builder.  

The fact that the Code is now looking to extend its scope to cover consumers of shared ownership housing is also a huge challenge and one that I really wanted to be part of. 

What do you feel are the biggest challenges for home buyers – and how does the Code help? 

Buying a house involves the heart as much as the head, which creates significant vulnerabilities for consumers. Purchasing a new build home can bring further challenges, if, for example, consumers may be buying off-plan without being able to view the finished property; or when they are buying into a larger development that may not be fully completed for several years. It’s crucial that consumers have confidence that they have appropriate rights and protections, both through codes of practice and home warranty cover.  

Shared ownership is particularly complex, with risks associated that can contribute to consumers being more vulnerable to detriment. The development of the Code to set standards and offer protection to these consumers is much needed. 

Based on your experience, what else would you like to see in place to support consumers who may be vulnerable?   

It seems to me that consumers aren’t always given comprehensive and impartial information when they buy new build homes, especially in more complex areas like retirement housing. Providing education and setting standards for estate agents, solicitors/licenced conveyancers and other key players that consumers rely on to represent their interests would make a big difference, both in giving consumers a clear picture of the risks they face and allowing them to make decisions with confidence.    

What does a perfect start to the day look like for you?   

I start the day with a whole pot of tea to myself, which I need to drink alone and in silence! Other essentials are cuddles with my dog, the sound of the seagulls as I wake and an early dog-walk on the beach. I can’t survive for long without hearing the sound of the waves! 

And finally, what’s your top tip for switching off after a busy working day? 

I love making things – from clothes to jewellery and accessories; mosaics to wreaths, pictures and wall hangings; blankets to bunting – you name it and I’ve probably tried it. I always have several works-in-progress and as a result I have a house full of things like fabric, yarn, beads, glass, glue, paint and, most satisfying of all, shells, driftwood, sea-glass and other beach-combing treasures!  

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