The Association of Residential Managing Agents has made it clear it will fight on for the full regulation of letting agents.
Ian Potter, ARLA’s managing director, gave a politely muted welcome to this week’s last-minute amendment by the Government to overturn a move by Labour peer Baroness Hayter to bring letting agents within the scope of the Estate Agents Act.
Instead, housing minister Mark Prisk pushed through proposals for mandatory membership of an ombudsman scheme – something that will require secondary legislation in due course.
In doing so, Prisk has firmly rejected lobbying from the likes of ARLA and the the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors which called for full regulation.
Potter said: “The Government’s amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill marks a positive move for the private rented sector, and in particular for consumers, who only stand to benefit from a formal system of redress.
“However, it is vital that the Government begins the process of consultation quickly, taking on board the views of the sector, and moves to introduce secondary legislation as soon as possible.
“ARLA will continue to push for regulation of the private rented sector. This is a solid first step, but we must not lose momentum.”
Former ARLA president Lucy Morton, head of lettings at London agents WA Ellis, expressed her disappointment. She said: “Although this is a step in the direct direction, the Government has failed to address the issue of client money protection and professional indemnity insurance, which were both proposed within Baroness Hayter’s amendment.
“There is a still a long way to go in ensuring better standards across the industry, and I fear that without full regulation we’re stopping short of putting an end to rogue agents and bad practice.”
Property Ombudsman Christopher Hamer, who had supported Baroness Hayter’s overturned amendment calling for full regulation, took a similar stance.
He said: “Whilst full regulation is not yet on the agenda, the introduction of compulsory redress brings about a level playing field for the industry and it will mean that a consumer has access to independent dispute resolution regardless of which agent they use.
"I look forward to working with the minister as the Government consults on the introduction of the legislation.”
Others took a more welcoming stand. Lewis Shand Smith, chief ombudsman of Ombudsman Services, said he supported the new amendment.
He said: “Independent redress is a means of resolving complaints that is cheaper and quicker than the courts; it can help business to learn from their mistakes, and gives consumers confidence without imposing significant additional regulation on the sector.”
Caroline Kenny, of UKALA (the United Kingdsom Association of Letting Agents), said she was pleased the Hayter amendment had been overturned: “Whilst well intentioned, the previous proposals that letting agents be brought within the scope of the Estate Agents Act 1979 fell short of providing a genuine solution, and we are glad that the Government has decided to work with UKALA and others to ensure that future regulation is not only proportionate to consumer need, but also fit for purpose.”
She said that “a poorly devised regulatory approach could do great damage to the sector at a time when its growth is essential to providing a healthy housing market”.
She went on: “We must not forget that the vast majority of letting agencies are small and medium-sized businesses which will face greater hardship complying with additional burdens.”
* But isn’t redress tantamount to shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted? And should having client money protection insurance be as minimum a requirement for letting agents as a driving licence is for anyone getting behind a wheel?