Head of Redress at the Property Redress Scheme, Sean Hooker discusses his recent experience at the ARLA|Propertymark conference in the ExCeL, how the day unfolded and the changes in legislation due to influence the industry.
The newly rebranded arla|propertymark held its national conference in the ExCeL exhibition Centre in London’s Docklands. Myself and a team made our way there for the day’s events.
arla|propertymark boast that this was the largest conference they had ever held and in my view, there was no misdescription here. Every seat was filled, indeed a sell-out. Given the political events surrounding the industry at the moment, I was frankly not surprised that so many flocked to this gathering especially as the agenda for the day promised to be eventful.
The main event
What do you think dominated proceedings? Yes you have guessed it – the proposal to ban letting agent fees to tenants. This long-standing debate has finally crystallised with the current Government’s proposal to legislate on this issue and to follow Scotland with a prohibition enshrined in statute. Various statistics were presented on the impact of this change and the effect it will have on rents, agent’s incomes and jobs and whether landlords would exit the market, flooding it with former buy-to- let properties. The arla|propertymark MD David Cox excoriated the Government as being heavy handed and out of touch with the sector and the effects their proposition would have. The pejoratives continued in a panel debate where David and a leading letting agent were pitted against a FT Journalist and Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, a Labour Peer.
From a neutral perspective, both sides made very valid points and the other member of the panel a civil servant from the ministry, clearly encouraged as many people as possible to feed into the consultation period. Whilst the conference was left with no doubt the ban would happen the how, when and the fine detail were all up for discussion and the industry should be as deeply involved as possible.
The current Housing Minister was notable by his absence but delegates were shown a recorded message predominantly focusing on the fees issue.
Up to now, ARLA have been very bullish in their language and approach to the announcement and that in my view was the right thing for a trade body to do and their members should expect no less.
The Fair Fees Forum now presents a vehicle for presenting the industry perspective on the implementation of the new law and to mitigate any unforeseen and adverse effects of a ban. The consultation process will start shortly and I urge as many of you to participate in it as possible.
Examining the changes in the industry
David Cox was very eloquent on the tsunami of legislation coming in effect on the industry. Some of this he welcomed such as the forthcoming enhancement of banning order powers and the rogue agent database. Things like the stamp duty changes and the Section 24 tax changes to mortgage interest relief could lead to a mass exodus from the buy to let market and make the lives of agents even more challenging. As with any predictions, only time will tell what the real effects will be but watch this space.
The Keynote speaker was William Hague who, in his now semi-detached role in the House of Lords gave an open and frank view of the political scene and the challenges we face in the future. He referred to a previous quote attributed to him when leader of the opposition that the Conservative Party only had two states, namely panic or complacency and this reflection of politics, in general, was both apt and poignant. It was refreshing to hear a former senior politician being so candid on the nature of politics.
I was particularly encouraged by the announcement in the afternoon that following the publication of the working party’s report and recommendations on Client Money Protection, that the Housing Minister had formally accepted the paper and that legislation would be brought into make the protection mandatory. This news brought loud applause.
Followers of my previous blogs will know that CMP is an issue I have closely followed and supported. As a redress scheme it has been frustrating that even when an agent has been found against, they have avoided paying their customers what they owe by either disappearing or folding up the company. CMP adds teeth to the other measures introduced to protect consumers and raise standards in the industry.
ARLA rightly should take the plaudits for campaigning for this commitment for a number of years, however I also want to point out that since we came into existence the Property Redress Scheme have been at the forefront of the pressure. Indeed it was the Chairman of my Advisory Council, Lord Monroe Palmer who at my behest jointly proposed the amendment to the Housing and Planning Act and with Baroness Diane Hayter chaired the working group and produced the report. Monroe, a skilful politician, persuaded the Government that the issue was about consumer protection and recompense rather than regulation and this was a subtle shift in the argument that made the difference to an administration by political philosophy is wary of red tape and institutional governance of free markets.
Predicting how legislation will be enforced
The final entertainment of the day was a Judge Rinder style mock trial where it was speculated how a prosecution over the failure to comply with the Right to Rent legislation would go if an agent was taken to court following the discovery of an illegal immigrant in a property he let.
The criminal proceedings for such an offence carries the penalty of a hefty fine and/or a five-year prison sentence. Following the “trial” involving expert “witnesses” sharing their legal opinion, the audience was asked whether they found the defendant guilty or not guilty. Surprisingly the verdict was 70% found him guilty and that a 5-year gaol term appropriate. So much for trial by peers if you cannot be acquitted for an administrative oversight by your fellow agents! It demonstrates the importance of ensuring you are fully up to speed with the latest legislation and that you are not the first person to be prosecuted under this law.
Overall the conference demonstrated the importance of taking note of the influence that politics will have on our sector over the next few years and beyond. The housing market is now firmly on the political agenda.
To find out how you can minimise the impact of the proposed ban on tenant fees read our expert guide here.