Baroness ‘could still win her fight to get letting agents recognised in law’

Leading figures in the lettings industry remain confident that Baroness Hayter will continue her fight to get letting agents recognised in law as estate agents.

Last week, the Government made plain that it would not support her bid to extend the scope of the Estate Agents Act to include letting and managing agents and she withdrew her amendment.

But both ARLA and RICS said that the amendment was far from dead.

Peter Bolton King, global residential director of RICS, said that the withdrawal was purely a matter of political procedure, and Ian Potter, managing director of ARLA, said: “We are working closely with her [Baroness Hayter] behind the scenes to support her amendment.”

Lucy Morton, former ARLA president and who was personally named in the Lords’ debate last week as London’s “queen of lettings”, also expressed confidence. She said that the withdrawal of the amendment was perfectly normal, and there was still a chance it could go through.

She said: “I have for many years been advocating the regulation of lettings agents and worked with Baroness Hayter on the Property Standards Board.

“She proposed an amendment to extend the scope of the Estate Agents Act to include letting and managing agents and this was debated in the House of Lords on Wednesday. She rightly said that there is ample evidence of rogue agents in the industry and we need to find a way to ensure that these agents do not get away with it any longer.

“At the very least, all agents should have client money protection, professional indemnity insurance and sign up to a redress scheme.

“The amendment was withdrawn; however, this is very normal and generally means that it will come back in the report stage and that an amendment may still be possible.

“It never ceases to amaze me that the Government will not regulate our industry and a small amendment to include lettings agents under the Estate Agents Act would go a long way to improve standards and professionalism in our industry and put a stop to the rogues.”

According to Hansard, Baroness Hayter herself dropped only a small hint that she would try to reintroduce the amendment at a later stage. She said, at the very end of the debate, that the support that her amendment had received gave her the confidence “if I needed it”.

The amendment drew vocal support – including from Conservative Lord Deben, the former Tory minister John Selwyn Gummer – but, speaking for the Government, BIS (the department for Business, Innovation and Skills) under-secretary Viscount Younger of Leckie made plain the Government’s unyielding stance.

He said: “While the Government acknowledge that poor practice exists in some parts of the letting sector, ministers believe that new regulation would be disproportionate and would drive some businesses from the market. This would increase costs for consumers and reduce the choice and availability of accommodation on offer to tenants.”

The Government’s opposition is despite what the baroness, and other speakers, pointed out: that in 2007, the current housing minister Mark Prisk tabled “almost identical amendments”.

In the debate, Hayter – former chair of the now defunct Property Standards Board – told fellow peers that the lettings industry is a big one, but completely unregulated. “There is ample evidence of rogue agents in this field,” she said.

Landlords and lettings agents may have nowhere to go if they wish to complain, she said, and lettings agents cannot be banned for bad practice.

She said the industry itself was behind her bid to regulate letting agents and Knight Frank had written to endorse her amendment.

She said: “This is a king-sized roll call. The industry is completely signed up to the initiative.”

She went on: “There is a major mischief at the moment as an estate agent banned by the OFT can open up the very next day as a letting agent.”

Speaking in support was Baroness Hanham, who said she would “come back with an amendment of my own about managing agents”.

Also speaking in support, Baroness Howe said the loophole should have been closed years ago.

Lord Deben said: “We must find a way to ensure that rogue letting agents do not get away with it any more. There is no argument that can be put up by BIS that can overcome the simple matter of the rights of the consumer.”

As reported in Hansard, Hayter withdrew her amendment.

* Meanwhile, the RICS has taken its lobbying campaign, aimed at reforming the private rented sector, to Westminster.

The RICS hosted a cross-party event in the House of Commons, providing an opportunity for politicians to hear from the lettings sector and to find out what change will mean for businesses and their constituents.

The Commons meeting was chaired by RICS global residential director Peter Bolton King and attended by shadow housing minister Jack Dromey.

Also in attendance was Baroness Hayter.

Housing minister Mark Prisk was not present at the meeting, but the RICS said it will continue to lobby both him and his Lords counterpart, Baroness Hanham.

Article courtesy of Letting Agent Today

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