Proposed amendment to legally classify letting agents as estate agents

Office Of Fair Trading

Image: Office Of Fair Trading

Being discussed in the House of Lords today is a proposed amendment that would legally classify letting agents as estate agents.

The move has been made by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, a former chair of the Labour party, who is attempting to fulfil a vow to protect customers of all agents.
The Baroness chaired the Property Standards Board, which accused the OFT of putting such ‘free’ competition above the needs of consumers, and said the public needed all the protection they could get. The Property Standards Board, launched in 2008, disbanded in 2010, saying it was impossible to give its Consumer Charter teeth.

In contrast to the doomed efforts of the Property Standards Board, the OFT’s recommendation to free up the agency industry has flourished. The Red Tape Challenge – formerly led by housing minister Mark Prisk – has resulted in the Estate Agents Act 1979 being relaxed to allow new business models, such as ‘passive’ online agents, to operate beyond the scope of the legislation.

Hayter’s new proposal looks to tighten up the Act in a number of ways, including having letting and managing agents being treated, in law, as estate agents. This would mean that letting and managing agents would have to belong to an ombudsman scheme and would be controlled by the OFT.

The baroness’s amendments would substitute the words ‘estate agents’ with ‘relevant estate agency work’ where ‘relevant estate agency work’ includes estate agency work and also letting and management agency work.

If accepted this would be a big step towards the regulation of the PRS that has been called for from a number of quarters.

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