The Property Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, is renewing his call for residential property letting agents to be brought under the umbrella of redress legislation.
Mr Hamer first made his appeal in March this year as he launched his annual report for 2009, saying that whichever party won the General Election in May it should make some form of protection for tenants and landlords a priority.
After the formation of the Coalition government in May, Grant Shapps the housing minister, made it clear that any form of legislation to regulate the lettings sector would not be a priority.
'More and more people will be looking to the private rented sector for their housing needs whether because they cannot get financing to buy a property or because government cuts will possibly impact on the availability of public sector housing. It is now more than ever imperative that consumers in the private rented sector gained some protection,' said Mr. Hamer as he launched his latest Interim Report for 2010, released today.
'If the Coalition was to review its stance, it could easily gain a quick win by expanding the scope of the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007.
'That Act required all residential sales agents to join an approved redress scheme to settle disputes between consumers and agents. Encompassing a similar obligation for letting agents would be an obvious consistency and could result in the entire sector (not just those firms who have voluntarily agreed to follow its standards) operating in accordance with the TPO Code of Practice.
'Our Code is not a heavy-handed regulatory regime. But taking this simple step would mean that the whole industry has parity and no firm would be outside the standards. It would make competition fairer while offering consumers greater protection. I recognise that full coverage of the market place through a formal regulatory structure can only come about through significant legislation but if the government was to take a positive view of my proposals and encourage the industry itself to establish a relevant regime I am enthusiastic about contributing to that concept.'
Mr Hamer hopes to arrange a meeting with Mr. Shapps to press the case for a change in legislation.
'More than 7,000 lettings offices in the UK are already signed up to the TPO Lettings Code of Practice voluntarily so clearly a large proportion of the industry itself sees this move as necessary,' adds Mr. Hamer. 'My report shows there is still a large number of complaints regarding lettings agents, numerically on a par with sales agents for whom TPO membership is almost double the size.
'Visiting estate agents and talking to them about industry issues is a large part of my job and with the backing of legislation to force all lettings agents to join an approved redress scheme it would be much easier to know who is operating in the market and to observe their standards.'
Figures in the interim report show that sales agents and lettings agents ended the quarter with the same number of cases (150) being opened for both industry sectors. But lettings agents generated far more enquiries than sales agents in the same period – virtually 70 per cent higher at 1,975. This is vastly different from the variance in earlier quarters of 2010 although a lightly less dramatic rate of climb than for the same period last year.
'What concerns me more is that when you survey the membership figures, there are 46 per cent more sales agents in the scheme than there are lettings agents,' said Mr. Hamer. 'The ratio of enquiries to membership numbers is one for every 9.7 sales offices compared with one for every 3.9 lettings offices. Clearly there is work to do in the lettings sector to improve standards and bringing lettings agents into the scope of CEARA would be a realistic and easily achieved first step.'