Regulation of UK estate agents handed over to Powys county council
Closure of Office of Fair Trading leaves Welsh council to protect homebuyers and sellers from rogue agents
A Welsh council will become responsible for protecting homebuyers and sellers across the UK from rogue estate agents on Tuesday, as part of a regulatory shake-up following the closure of the Office of Fair Trading.
Powys county council and Anglesey Trading Standards will run the National Trading Standards Estate Agents Team, taking on some of the powers previously held by the OFT, including assessing whether Britain’s half a million agents are fit to carry out their work within the terms of the Estate Agents Act 1979.
The move has been opposed by the shadow consumer minister, Stella Creasy, who said there were “real questions about whether Powys and Angelsey have the capacity to take on a project like this”.
The council will be responsible for issuing bans and warnings to agents who break the law and for maintaining a public register of banned agents. It will approve and monitor redress schemes for consumers and provide information about rights and obligations to businesses and customers.
The contract has been set up over three years and is worth £170,000 a year to the council, which said it would create three new jobs as a result.
Creasy said timing of the changes was also a problem, she suggested. “Our concern is that there is growing evidence of sharp practice in the estate agency industry,” she said. “Now is the time to be taking a closer look at that.”
Consumers who have a complaint about an estate agent will still contact their local authority’s trading standards team. James Munro from Powys council, who will lead the new team, told the BBC the team of three were effectively a head office to the entire trading standards operation across the country.
“We’re there once an estate agent has been declared unfit, or if we consider they’re unfit to carry out estate agency work, then we’re the ones that will decide that they can be banned from carrying out that kind of work in the future.”
Recently the council approved £20m worth of budget cuts, but Munro said the money for the new service was ringfenced.
Henry Pryor, a former estate agent turned buying agent said the OFT had done “a pretty limp job” of regulating estate agents “not helped by successive governments who refuse to regulate the sector or to bring letting agents within the definition of the Estate Agents Act”.
He added: “It seems unlikely that civil servants in Powys will do any better or indeed any more, leaving the public exposed to rogue operators and giving the press the opportunity to justifiably ask ‘who is going to clean up the wild west?’.”
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said Trading Standards already had a role in regulating estate agents and this move gave responsibility over the sector to a single body.
A Bis spokesperson said: “”This type of enforcement, with a council hosting a team, is already carried out very effectively in areas like tackling illegal money lending so is not unusual. Through a competitive bidding process, Powys were able to demonstrate that they were the best placed to take on this work.
“Trading Standards officers will carry on the enforcement work of the OFT and the budget for this work is ringfenced, while they will continue report to Bis. Consumers are still going to be protected from rogue traders under the changes. This will not undermine their protections.”
Mark Hayward of the National Association of Estate Agents, said: “There’s a lot of industry knowledge and background information the council will need to get to grips with, and fast. And as such, we have arranged a meeting with them to help with the transition.”
Responsibility for running UK-wide work against illegal lending already sits with a single council, Birmingham.
Article courtesy of The Guardian