Fight for estate agent licensing ends in defeat

The Property Standards Board, set up to promote and help establish the mandatory licensing of all estate and letting agents, has folded…

Five months after the general election, it has thrown in the towel after acknowledging that licensing is no longer on the political agenda – as was repeatedly made plain by Grant Shapps, now housing minister, when in opposition.

The board was a cross-industry initiative set up jointly by RICS and NFoPP in response to Sir Brian Carsberg's Review of Residential Property, published in June 2008.

The Property Standards Board proposals revolved around a requirement that it wanted the Government to enforce, namely that all sales and letting agents should have to be licensed.

The board proposed setting up a single regulatory vehicle for the residential property industry, which would have run in tandem with a register of private landlords – another initiative discarded by the new Government.

The proposed licensing body would have ‘over-arched' the existing bodies, including NAEA, ARLA and RICS. These would have been effectively responsible for carrying out the licensing. Minimum standards for a licence to be granted were proposed, with an appeals system if licences were refused or withdrawn.

The PSB itself would have overseen the compilation and maintenance of the  directory of all sales and lettings agents.

The board did get as far as producing a consumers' charter.

It had members on it representing the NAEA, ARLA, NFoPP, RICS, Trading Standards and Solicitors Regulation Authority. Also on it was Bill McClintock, of the Property Ombudsman Scheme, who has also been trying to get his own Register of Property Agents off the ground.

The Property Standards Board was chaired by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, a former chief executive of the European Labour Party. She admitted that until chairing the board, she had not realised that estate agents act for the seller, not buyer.

This week, she said: "I am naturally extremely disappointed that we were unable to bring the residential property sector together to raise standards and improve consumer protection throughout this vitally important sector, which involves one of the most important transactions in people's lives – the securing of a home.

"I strongly believe that consumers need to have confidence in the professionalism and integrity of agents, and this can only be achieved by the adoption of and compliance with effective standards, and the proper monitoring and enforcement of that compliance.

"Although the Board has established a consumer charter, users will only have confidence in it if the industry – with some independent and consumer oversight [supervision] – ensures those who claim to adhere to the charter are monitored, insured and subject to discipline should they fail to comply. 

"Whilst it has not been possible without legislation to take the agreed consumer charter to the next stage, the outgoing Property Standards Board hopes that the individual parts of the industry – and particularly those who have not voluntarily joined a professional body – will move quickly towards adopting the charter and monitoring compliance, so that consumers can have confidence in all their dealings during this complex and often stressful process."



Baroness Hayter, who is also Chair of the Legal Services Board Consumer Panel, said she would continue to champion consumer rights in the House of Lords, and – along with the professional bodies which established the Board – press for the effective regulation of residential agents "to protect buyers, sellers, landlords and tenants from detriment arising from the actions of the unscrupulous minority in the sector".