A challenge to all surveyors

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ANN BADEN is an unlikely standard bearer for Britain's hard-pressed home owners. Tomorrow night, however, her name will become known to millions as someone who is publicly protesting about the right of surveyors to muck up a property inspection and get away with it.

Ms Baden is challenging a system whereby home owners can be denied compensation even if a survey is shown to be negligent.

This is because not only do home owners have to prove negligence, they are generally required to show that the defect would have cut the property's price by at least 10 per cent if spotted in advance. For unusual houses, the allowable margin of error can be even higher - 20 per cent or more.

Ms Baden's case, which was first covered by the Independent on Sunday in August last year, will feature in a BBC1 Watchdog programme on Monday.

It centres on a negligence claim she made against the surveyors of her two-bedroom house for allegedly failing to spot heavy damp in parts of the house. Putting the damage right has cost her £14,000.

As soon as she noticed the damp, Ms Baden commissioned a second surveyor's report. It found that "any reasonably competent surveyor" should have recommended that estimates be taken on the amount of work needed on the property before it was bought.

Ms Baden's original surveyor is a member of the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors, which does have a voluntary arbitrator. But the surveyor concerned refused to refer the matter to arbitration.

In fact, Watchdog found that although 600 allegations of negligence were made to the RICS about its members last year, only 14 surveyors agreed to arbitration.

There are grounds for believing that many surveyors' professional indemnity insurers are putting pressure on their clients not to agree to arbitration. This is because they would have to meet any award made by the arbitrators,

In Ms Baden's case, the issue of negligence has never been proved because it did not go to court. She dropped her claim after finding out that even if she proved it she stood to win no compensation.

For the past year, the RICS has been inching painfully towards introducing a mandatory arbitration scheme for all its members. It is also discussing whether to discipline members found guilty of professional negligence.

Yet despite protestations that it wants to solve the problem, it is hard to avoid the impression that the RICS is dragging its feet. A consultative document still has to be agreed by its ruling body. Then it will have to be decided by its members.

Meanwhile, scores of innocent home owners will continue to receive shoddy treatment.

Surveyors do an excellent job for the most part. They have an interest in making sure that their more slapdash colleagues do not let down the profession. They should be prepared to act now rather than wait until anger on the part of home owners forces them into it.

THE TSB's decision to backdate to 1976 admission into its pension scheme for all its part-timers, mainly women, is good news. Its "voluntary" move was helped by just a little pressure from the banking union, Bifu.

It is now time for other employers to go down the same route and apply the judgment made by the European Court last September. It said that to ban mostly female part-timers from joining a pension scheme is sexual discrimination. So it is.

Sadly, even if companies do follow the TSB, many women will not benefit from the change. This is because they will not be able to afford the large lump sum needed to pay the backdated contributions to join their schemes. Women are losing out once again.