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Ministers clash over ‘feeble’ announcement as Propertymark calls for inquiry to include sales agents

Industry bodies have welcomed the launch of a ‘call for evidence’ into the lettings agency and leasehold management sectors.

But politicians have been at loggerheads over recommendations which include mandatory membership of a professional body and the possibility of a new Government regulator.

Housing minister Alok Sharma said there were reports of broken windows being repaired with cardboard, mould being painted over, and a landlord being billed £500 by his agent for repairing a shower door.

But shadow housing minister John Healey said the launch of the call for evidence was “a truly feeble announcement”.

He said: “It isn’t even a commitment to act. It’s a commitment to ask some questions.”

The document, which does indeed ask questions, appears very blurred about the two different activities of leasehold management and lettings, suggesting that two separate inquiries might have been originally envisaged.

The paper also uses unusually strong language – for example condemning agents for over-charging and under-managing. It was launched yesterday by DCLG.

While the inquiry covers England only, the Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns, called on the Welsh Government to protect tenants in Wales from rogue agents and landlords.

Cairns specifically attacked letting agent fees. He said: “Getting set up in a private tenancy can be eye-wateringly expensive. Not only must new tenants find thousands of pounds upfront for deposits and rent in advance – they also have to pay fees to letting agents for a range of administrative costs which can often run into hundreds of pounds.

“This has been going on for far too long and today the UK Government is taking a stand by giving tenants in England more power to challenge extortionate fees and poor treatment.

“Wales must not get left behind. It is time that the Welsh Government followed the example being set in England and move quickly to protect tenants in Wales from unjust fees and rogue landlords.”

Propertymark has meanwhile called for the English call for evidence to be widened to include sales agents.

David Cox, chief executive of ARLA Propertymark, and Mark Hayward, chief executive of NAEA Propertymark, said in a joint statement that they welcomed the launch.

They said: “We have long called for greater regulation of the housing sector.

“It will give consumers greater control over who manages their property, create long needed transparency, and raise the bar for those wishing to work in the housing sector.

“However, it’s concerning that estate agents don’t fall under the Government’s initial scope – we urge ministers to widen the remit to include the whole housing market.

“We are committed to ensuring consumers receive the best level of service when looking to buy, sell, rent or lease a property.

“Our members are required to have deposit and client money protection schemes in place and undertake regular training.

“However, this doesn’t stop some rogue agents from giving the industry a bad name.

“Blanket regulation is the right approach if we are to give consumers the confidence they deserve and reassurance that they will be treated fairly, no matter which agent they use.”

Martyn Alderton, national lettings director for Your Move and Reeds Rains, also welcomed the call for evidence.

He said: “We fully support stronger lettings legislation to clamp down on the small minority of rogue agents and ensure that any fees charged within the industry are fair and transparent.

“Ultimately, tenants should feel confident that the homes they pay for are safe and meet clear minimum standards and that the agents they deal with are fully qualified and regulated to practise.”

Isobel Thomson, CEO of NALS, said: “NALS welcomed the Government’s announcement earlier this month of its intention to regulate all lettings and management agents.

“With 72% of respondents to the consultation on a letting fee ban calling for broader regulation to accompany it, it is clear the industry is ready for it.

“NALS believes that it is the only way to ensure that all agents work to the same consistent standards and offer consumers the protection they deserve.

“This call for evidence is an opportunity for the sector to engage with the Government and help shape the measures they have announced.

“Good professional agents who are already part of existing regulatory organisations such as NALS have nothing to fear from statutory regulation.

“They should continue to highlight to their tenants and landlords the strict compliance requirements they already meet voluntarily.”

Thomson said of the statement by the Secretary of State for Wales: “We believe that the majority of agents in Wales charge a fair fee for a fair service and we await the outcome of the consultation by the Welsh Government on this issue.

“Wales already has full regulation of landlords and agents and therefore the regulatory organisation, Rent Smart Wales, should by now be delivering the effective action necessary to ensure that tenants are offered the degree of protection they deserve.”

The English survey can be found at the link below.

www.gov.uk/dclg

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Source:: Ministers clash over ‘feeble’ announcement as Propertymark calls for inquiry to include sales agents