On Tuesday, the House of Commons is discussing an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (ERR) Bill. If approved, the changes would see letting agents required by law to belong to an ombudsman scheme. I have written to the six Members of Parliament in the areas in which BHT works, to encourage them to support the amendment. The MP’s are Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye), Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne), Norman Baker (Lewes), Simon Kirby (Brighton Kemptown), Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion), and Mike Weatherley (Hove).
Since 2008 estate agents have been required by law to be part of an approved redress scheme, but letting agents are not.
The Property Ombudsman received more than 8,000 complaints about letting agents from landlords and tenants in 2012 – an increase of 9% on the previous year. Yet only 12 prosecutions were carried out last year by trading standards teams in 20 of the biggest councils in England, Scotland and Wales.
Baroness Hayter has said: “Legislation already requires estate agents to be part of an ombudsman scheme. What this amendment would do is extend that so that letting agents would also have to be members of an ombudsman scheme. At the moment anybody could set up as a letting agent. They don’t have to promise to give minimum standards to the tenants or to the landlords.”
A spokesman from the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “People living in private rented homes should be treated fairly and honestly, but we want to avoid excessive red tape that would push up the cost of rents and reduce choice for tenants. The first priority must be to make sure that landlords and tenants are well informed and empowered to exercise their rights. Agents are subject to consumer protection laws and dissatisfied customers can report bad practice to local trading standards officers.”
My concern is that with changes to Legal Aid, specifically the reduction in what we can do under legal help, as well as a reduction in the numbers we can assist, it is unlikely that tenants will have the necessary power to exercise their rights.
Landlords, too, do not get a fair deal from letting agents. The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA), the leading trade body, has said it was disappointed by the low numbers being prosecuted and that if there was seen to be a robust procedure then that in itself would be a deterrent.
The Housing Minister has said he is not keen on new regulations, but I understand that he has said he is open to debate. I have urged the six MP’s to support the amendment on Tuesday.