Independent report into housebuilding giant calls for reassessment of company’s whole “purpose and ambition”

Housebuilder Persimmon has routinely failed to properly install correct cavity barriers and firestopping on its timber frame properties, according to a damning independent report into build problems at the firm.


Source: Duncan Andison/

The independent report, conducted by Stephanie Barwise QC, of Atkin Chambers, found that the failure to install correct cavity barriers was a “systemic nationwide problem” and called for the firm’s board to reassess the builder’s whole “purpose and ambition”.

Persimmon chairman Roger Devlin commissioned the report in April this year after repeated public criticism of the quality of new-build Persimmon homes, This followed the huge backlash over a £75m bonus for previous chief executive Jeff Fairburn.

Persimmon is the UK’s third-largest housebuilder, with an annual turnover of more than £3.5bn.

The executive summary of the report found: “The problem Persimmon has encountered with missing/improperly fitted cavity barriers is a systemic nationwide problem, which is a manifestation of poor culture coupled with the lack of a group build process. […]

“If the board wishes Persimmon to be a builder of quality homes, meeting all relevant build and safety standards, then it should reconsider Persimmon’s purpose and ambition.”

The report found the company was focused on being a land buyer and homeseller, rather than a builder, with no group build processes or systems in place to ensure quality.

It said: “Persimmon has a nationwide problem of missing and/or incorrectly installed cavity barriers in its timber-frame properties”. While the firm had reacted quickly when this problem was identified, it had only inspected the eaves of properties, and not assessed whether the same problem was occurring in party walls and around windows and doors.

The failure to install cavity barriers in timber-frame buildings poses a significant fire risk, The issue is seen as key to the rapid spread of the recent blaze at The Hamptons, a Berkeley-built block of flats in Worcester Park, south London. The independent report said the issue posed an “intolerable” fire risk.

The report, which was published on Persimmon’s website today but not publicly announced, said the business had started to take steps to address the problems raised by the investigation. It also concluded that:

  • Persimmon’s pledge that it inspects the work at all stages of the build process is not currently being met.
  • The company has no group build policy and “does not have formal group-level procedures requiring supervision of either its own employees’ or subcontractors’ work, or periodic inspection of work as it progresses”.
  • Persimmon has prioritised the process and inspections immediately before and after sales at the expense of the overall build process and related quality assurance inspections, meaning that “it must be recognised that genuine customer care starts with the quality of the build, therefore beginning much earlier in the process”.
  • A culture change is necessary at the business, to avoid “stigma of a corporate culture which results in poor workmanship and a potentially unsafe product.
  • The cavity barrier problem was “a manifestation of a lack of supervision and inspection of the way in which building work is carried out both by Persimmon’s own labour and Persimmon’s subcontractors”.
  • On at least one occasion contractors engaged to put right cavity barrier problems claimed they had corrected all problems when in fact the missing cavities had not been re-installed.

The report also raised questions about the quality in the wider housebuilding industry, by criticising the Home Builders’ Federation’s five-star quality rating system. It said there was a “disconnect between the award of stars via the HBF Survey and true (as opposed to perceived) build quality”.

It did conclude, however, that Persimmon’s board deserved significant credit for commissioning the review and publishing its findings, which reflected a willingness to confront “difficult truths”.

Barwise added: “The independent review team has sought to be as thorough as possible in its consultation and review and I believe that we have given the board a very honest assessment of the issues Persimmon needs to address. It is encouraging that during the period of review as we shared initial findings that the company began to take various steps to respond to certain issues.”

Devlin said the housebuilder had made progress in identifying issues raised and apologised to homeowners affected by the problems identified. He added: “We have made solid progress in implementing a number of initiatives over the last year.

“This review, and the seriousness that we attach to its detailed findings, is an important moment for Persimmon as we continue to build a different business with an increased focus on our customers and wider stakeholders – becoming a business that prioritises purpose as well as profit.”

More to follow …