Letting agent regulation: it’s time to have your say

A few days ago, we posted a blog about reforms affecting the Scottish property rental sector. Similar changes are likely to be enforced across the whole of the UK in the future. The Department for Communities and Local Government has launched a consultation, calling for evidence to help develop plans to protect the consumer in the rental sector. You only have until 29 November to make your views known.

At the heart of the issue is the perception that, as lettings agents are appointed by landlords, tenants have only limited ability to challenge the quality or cost of the service they receive. If their landlord chooses to work with an agent who overcharges or does a poor job, the tenants only realistic option is to move.

Three key ideas are being explored further within the consultation document, as follows:

  1. The standards that should be a requirement for letting agents.
  2. What regulation should look like and how it will be enforced.
  3. Empowering consumers with greater choice and the right to switch agents.

It’s too easy for a responsible agent, already a member of a trade body, to say that change isn’t required. Consumer surveys show high levels of dissatisfaction. Perhaps some of the criticism is unfair. Perhaps those most vocal about problems are those unfortunate tenants who have experienced the very worst service from the extreme elements of the industry. But, in some ways, this is irrelevant – reform is coming. What agents need to do now is to shape the reforms. If you have an opinion, get it heard.

Standards

Scottish agents will have until 30 September 2018 to achieve a certain level of up-to-date qualification and will have to be registered. Wales has the Rent Smart scheme that requires letting agents to be licensed. Both these schemes will offer consumers guidance on expected standards and performance. They remove the possible confusion of different trade bodies by establishing a unified and enforceable code of practice.

Minimum standards will, no doubt, be a necessity for England, but whether this takes the form of a fit and proper person test, rules of conduct, formal qualifications, or membership of professional bodies is still to be decided

Regulation

To sum up, the consultation process is investigating three potential ways in which the regulation could work:

  1. All letting agents to be members of a relevant, Government-approved professional body.
  2. As in 1) but with an additional regulatory body established or approved by the Government.
  3. A new, Government-established or approved regulatory body which all agents would be required to join.

Of these options, 1) and 2) are possibly the most likely outcomes – if only because the professional bodies already exist, and the changes could be implemented more rapidly.

Empowerment

This part of the consultation will be considering how to protect tenants from unfair fees and charges, and how best to give them redress. It will also look at the possibility of consumers having a say in the appointment of an agent, and indeed, whether the role of a regulator should be that of a consumer champion.

Want to have your say?

We always welcome your comments, but in this case, by submitting evidence, your opinions can influence policy. The consultation period is open now, but all submissions, either in writing or via an online survey, are required by 29 November 2017.

You can find the full list of questions under consideration here.


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