Aspirant trade body CIELA (the Charter for Independent Estate and Letting Agents) says it is compiling a list of legally compliant agents, ahead of what it insists will be its launch.
And it has warned that it will forge ahead with the idea whether agents co-operate or not.
In a rambling announcement to members last night, written by founder Charlie Wright, it revealed the development of a free online facility in co-operation with HMRC, Companies House, the ICO (Information Commissioners Office) and redress schemes that will allow anyone, agent or member of the public, to check the legality of any agency operation instantly.
Wright said the industry needed to police itself in order to restore public faith in residential agency.
He said: “For as long as I can remember, nothing has improved public opinion of residential agency. Every time new legislation is suggested, it reinforces the public impression that agents can’t be trusted and need more new laws to force them to behave.
“The internet has made it easier for new agency businesses to open, with ever-lower standards of service, professionalism and competence (even from the good-intentioned), reflected by the ever falling fees. There are of course some exceptions and sometimes brilliant new agencies open up.
“Having listened to every conceivable view, and accepting that government legislation does nothing to help, there remains only one option: self-regulation, or in plain language, the naming, shaming and ousting of the rogues.”
He dismissed the work of established associations NAEA and ARLA to improve the image of the industry, arguing that their purpose is to promote their own members as trustworthy, “with the implication that non-members cannot be trusted”.
He said: “This worsens the public view that there are indeed untrustworthy agents out there.”
The launch of CIELA’s list will be phased, allowing all agents the chance to confirm and prove their compliance at no cost before any lists are published.
CIELA will then publish a “comprehensive public register” of all known legal operations, as well as listing suspected illegal operators once they have been confidentially notified and given a chance to rectify compliance shortfalls.
But the body, which doesn’t officially launch until April this year, said it wouldn’t need agents’ direct co-operation in order to establish their legality, at least in the case of incorporated companies. In the case of sole traders, it may not prove to be so easy.
Wright said: “This means that the launch of this facility will happen regardless of any opposition. As yet, we have not heard a single reason why this is not in the interests of the industry as a whole and the public.”
At the same time, he also issued a call for new members to the organisation, with pre-launch membership costing £35 per month plus VAT.
CIELA has previously asserted that the number one concern among agents is the public’s negative impression of the industry, “caused by the illegal conduct of many small independent agents, compounded by the Government’s failure to enforce existing laws and further worsened by the failure of any existing organisation to take effective action”.
It sees its role as policing the industry and will provide a free downloadable “certificate of integrity” for compliant agents and also provide a “snitching” facility for agents to anonymously report firms not following regulations.
CIELA was originally supposed to launch towards the end of 2017 but delayed this by six months, blaming a lack of support.