Home information packs suffered another setback yesterday following the publication of a report by the National Audit Office.

The government’s spending watchdog ruled that the government had employed consultants who had a clear conflict of interest to help develop HIPs, and then failed to investigate adequately or act on complaints about this. The watchdog also criticised the government for falling ‘far short of appropriate practice’ in setting accreditation standards for the scheme.

The investigation centred on the employment of two consultants, Christopher Legrand and Richard Theobold. A company formed by the duo was appointed in 2005 by single tender to develop a scheme certifying HIPs inspectors. However, the consultants owned shares in the parent of one of the companies bidding for the work, Surveyors & Valuers Accreditation.

When a rival bidder, the RICS, complained last year, officials ‘took at face value’ e-mailed assurances from Legrand that the value of his ‘C’ shares would not be affected by any work awarded to the subsidiary.

The government took action only after RICS made further complaints and appointed accountant Baker Tilly to investigate. The department then set up its own independent review, by Grant Thornton, which reported that a conflict did exist. The two consultants had their contract terminated within a week.