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New trade body CIELA attacks independent agents – and turns on the trade press

ON THE MARKET

Aspiring trade body CIELA has attacked both the members it is hoping to attract – independent agents, saying that many are breaking the law – and trade journals such as EYE, which it has previously tried to use as a promotional platform.

It claims that trade press such as EYE are running scared of Purplebricks lawyers, while attacking our readers.

In what seems like a meltdown of its own business model at the weekend, CIELA called readers who post comments “anonymous trolls” who “plague” the comments sections and said they were the “culprits” responsible for the industry’s poor reputation.

CIELA has also threatened to expel independent agents from membership – although it is not clear who may have joined the trade body which has already said that its launch may never happen due to lack of sign-up. The body has already said it is most unlikely to launch as planned this autumn, given apathy from agents.

However, CIELA (Charter for Independent Estate and Letting Agents) said it will meet agents in Bristol this coming Wednesday and in London on Wednesday week “who would like to debate the need for an organisation to represent the collective interests of law-abiding independent agents”.

In a statement at the weekend, it said that the pre-launch consultation period, designed to sound out opinion in the industry as to whether another trade body is needed, will run until the end of September.

CIELA, launched by IT supplier Charlie Wright, has filed a complaint against Purplebricks to the Advertising Standards Authority, and said it looks forward to the outcome. In its statement, it said that Purplebricks’ lawyers were simply ‘sabre-rattling’.

It said: “CIELA has not received a response to its letter to Purplebricks’ lawyers dated 17th May … sent in response to their complaint about alleged defamatory remarks in the 4th May 2017 Telegraph article. We therefore believe that this was nothing but sabre-rattling and a hollow threat. Our invitation for them to substantiate their claim stands.

“CIELA would like to draw the attention of journalists who have felt unable to publish opinions on Purplebricks to the fact that defamation action is not applicable to the expression of opinion, only to the publishing of lies. Several trade journalists have chosen not to publish remarks that the Daily Telegraph was happy to publish. PB’s legal response was against CIELA, not the Daily Telegraph.

“CIELA is concerned at how effective the intimidation tactics of PB lawyers may be with the trade press.

“CIELA has been holding in-depth discussions with founder members who, in turn, have been discussing the matter with their industry colleagues.

“The feedback has been fascinating, and has shed light on the fact that the number of independent agents who do not comply with minimum legal requirements, which is a requirement of CIELA membership even during pre-launch, is possibly much larger than anyone to date has realised.

“CIELA is not anti-corporate, not anti-online, and respects the rights of any business to exist and promote itself within the confines of the law.

“CIELA’s stand is against improper practice by any and all sectors, including, and perhaps especially, independent agents who flout the requirements.

“From now on, any member found to be not fully compliant with the Government’s minimum legal requirements will be immediately and permanently expelled.

“Next week we will publish detailed statements from a number of founder agents regarding the feedback they have received from discussions within the industry. In summary, there is astonishment at the levels of negativity towards any attempt to form a collective voice, even though there is unanimity in the belief that such an organisation is needed.

“Interestingly, the majority of negative views publicly expressed appear to come from the anonymous trolls who plague the comments sections of trade news websites.

“Initial research indicates that some of these agents are the typical law-flouters who do not comply with minimum legal requirements and may as a result be operating in violation of the regulations. These are precisely the independent agents whose conduct generates the bad press the industry receives, and they are a risk to the public. They would appear, on initial inspection, to represent a larger section of the industry than all the corporates combined, and as a result, be the primary culprits behind the poor industry reputation.

“Membership of CIELA, even at pre-launch stage, requires a legal declaration by an officer of the member company that all minimum legal requirements are being met, and as such represents an easy way for the public to avoid the criminal section of the industry operating illegally, putting their clients at risk and damaging the industry’s reputation.

“CIELA welcomes professionally-run, independent estate and lettings agencies who are happy to make a declaration that their business complies with all applicable regulations. Once fully launched, CIELA plans to poll members on whether this requirement should be actively policed, where members’ compliance with the law will be individually verified.

“Many of our earliest members and supporters are existing or former members of the NAEA or ARLA, whose minimum company membership requirements go far beyond the minimum legal requirements set out in UK law. Whilst CIELA supports all their requirements, it means that there is no way for the public to differentiate between the law-abiding and criminal agents who are not members of the NAEA.

“CIELA suggests that, especially in more challenging market conditions, agents whose businesses do not meet minimum requirements and therefore flout the law should be easily identifiable and thus avoided by the public, benefiting law-abiding agents.”

The very lengthy statement concludes with a comment from Wright: “The last three months have been absolutely fascinating and have revealed that it is mostly the law-breakers who are afraid of CIELA’s formation.

“Professionally run, law-abiding agents who have expressed their support, but not yet joined, have explained that they need to be sure the rogue element of the industry cannot be members, before they commit to membership.

“So their stated reason for ‘wait and see’ is to be satisfied that the controls are in place to prevent any criminal agents being part of the organisation. Before their feedback, we had not fully appreciated the scale of this problem, i.e. just how many independent agents are breaking the law.

“These agents who act as though they are above the law are doing the worst damage to the industry. Before there is a chance of improving its reputation, these agents must be publicly identified, to protect the public from their deliberate criminality, or at best their sheer incompetence.”

EYE asked whether the attack on trade journals related specifically to us.

Wright told us: “All trade publications without exception have shied away from printing much of what we have said about Purplebricks, all for the same reasons. We’re merely making that observation and showing that when you push back against PB’s lawyers’ heavy-handed scare tactics, they don’t respond nor pursue.”

For the record, EYE has not received any letter from lawyers representing Purplebricks

EYE also defends the right of all of our readers to on our site and would like to make it clear that you are welcome to do so. You have helped make our site what it is and we totally support free speech.

Regarding libel, however, we must strongly point out that contrary to CIELA’s advice, opinions can indeed be judged to be defamatory – and very expensive.

At EYE, we do very occasionally edit or remove posts which we believe might cross the line, and where we are concerned that our posters could get themselves (and us, as publishers) into potential trouble.

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