In Conversation With… Gary Trent
May 23, 2014
We are regularly in conversation with a plethora of leading figures in the property, investment, finance and charity sectors, many of whom are guest authors for PRSupdate. The purpose of this features is to get them to discuss the topics and issues that are currently affecting the Private Rented Sector.
If you would like to take part in an In Conversation piece then please do get in touch with us.
Today we are in conversation with Gary Trent, PRS Stakeholder Lead at the Valuation Office Agency.
Gary, can you tell us a little about your background?
I started in estate agency during the boom times of the 80s where I think I learnt more about people than property, but that’s stood me in good stead. My introduction to the Private Rented Sector (PRS) was as a Rent Officer in 1994.
I took on a range of business development and stakeholder liaison roles as Rent Officers were moved from local authorities to The Rent Service (TRS), and then onto the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) in 2009. I now develop our relationships and partnerships with the PRS.
For those who may not know, can you briefly explain what the VOA does?
It provides the valuations and property advice required to support taxation and benefits. The VOA’s Rent Officers are responsible for setting local housing allowance rates (LHA) and its equivalent element in Universal Credit, our remaining non-LHA housing benefit caseload and Fair Rents under the Rent Act 1977.
Everything Rent Officers do is underpinned by private rental data collected from across the PRS.
How does the VOA collect data on rent levels for the Private Rented Sector?
Trust and partnership is at the core of it as we need data on achieved rents, not just those advertised. Of course, there is no obligation on anyone to share information with us, so everything we collect is provided on a goodwill basis. We maintain a database of around half a million private rents. It’s an impressive and unique private/public partnership and a credit to the PRS.
VOA Rent Officers are in personal contact with landlords, letting agents and management agents. It’s our independent, statutory status that allows us to bring rental data from competing businesses together confidentially and securely under one roof.
We’re also exploring smarter and more efficient methods to collect data from larger businesses and are trialling electronic data transmission.
How does the VOA use the PRS data it collects?
Commercial confidence is integral to our collection so the first thing to point out is that the raw data is never shared. All of our outputs are valuations, calculations or statistics.
The main use is for the calculation of LHA rates over 152 areas in England. It’s why we need the wide geographical distribution and high volumes of data. The rental data is also used to produce Private Rental Market official statistics and statistical products which feed into the calculation of the Consumer Price Index and Retail Price Index.
One way or another, our work affects every single citizen.
Do you believe there should be a national database of all PRS rental levels and annual increases?
It could be argued that there are alternatives.
For example, our own administrative database of rents has already been used to produce the VOA’s simple but groundbreaking Private Rental Market official statistic by local authority and the Office for National Statistic’s experimental Index of Private Housing Rental Prices.
It’s not a great leap of faith to believe that, with the right level of support from the PRS itself, we can improve the range of data and develop more refined rental statistics that better meet the sector’s needs. More sophisticated methodologies offer the potential of greater disaggregation and a much more granular view of how rents are behaving.
What are your thoughts on the current levels of rent in the PRS?
I wouldn’t want to generalise on rent levels overall as our experience is that the market behaves very differently across the country. Our statistics show recent rents have been fairly stable in parts and increasing in others.
Numerous commercially produced indices, market reports and sentiment surveys help indicate trends and average asking prices. Each is invaluable to the overall understanding of the market but they can sometimes present quite different pictures.
That’s why I believe so strongly in the PRS coming together in support of the VOA building an independent source of rental statistics. One that’s sustainable over the longer term, representative of the whole market, and subject to the Code of Practice for Statistics. It would compliment, rather than compete with, the commercially produced research.
Is there anything you would like to mention we haven’t asked you about?
The better the data, the greater the scope to improve the VOA’s Private Rental Market statistics and create a compelling PRS resource. It’s an opportunity for the PRS to work collaboratively without compromising commercial interests.
I’d urge those that don’t already contribute data to get involved.
Why not take a dip into our In Conversation archives, we have been In Conversation with:
- Jasper Goodford, Relationship Director – Real Estate Finance at Santander
- Susan Fitz-Gibbon, President of ARLA
- Liz Peace, Chief Executive, British Property Federation