There are quite a few important news items this week so let’s get on with it.
Protecting Consumers – agents
The government chose to release their plans for the letting industry over the bank holiday.
Rather confusingly the same report covers letting agents dealing with short tenancies and reforms to long leaseholds (which I am not going to look at here), which makes the document a bit confusing.
It would have made things a bit clearer if they had dealt with them separately. Anyway:
- They are going to regulate letting agents by requiring them to comply with a code of practice
- They will make it a requirement that letting agents be qualified to practice
- They are going to consult on the regulatory model but are minded to have an independent regulator
- The regulator will have enforcement powers and be able to ban agents
- They are going to establish a ‘working party’ to help them do this
This is all very good news but no doubt it will take a while, what with Brexit and everything. Still, its good that they have finally woken up to the need for regulation. Ben and I have been writing about this for years.
You will find the report here.
Protecting Consumers – client money protection (CMP)
The Government also published their response to the Client Money Protection consultation.
- Basically, they are going to be introducing this before the tenant fee ban:
This is to ensure that consumers are protected and that client money is not lost in the instance of any agent going out of business, as a result of the ban.
- They think the current providers are sufficient but there is going to be the power to introduce a gov’t CMP scheme if they wish.
- Agents will only have to have cover if they hold client money and
- Enforcement will be by way of penalty charge of up to £30,000.
NB Property Industry Eye has a post indicating that many agents could be exiting the market rather than go to all the bother of regulation.
There is also a post saying Sajid Javid has been on You and Yours saying that he is committed to bringing in these new proposals but
Critics described Javid’s performance on You and Yours as feeble, and more about a flag-waving, vote-gathering exercise among generation rent than anything else.
We will have to see. I suspect we are not looking at full regulation for quite a few years yet.
Rogue Landlord Database
This goes live today and the government has published guidance for Local Authorities.
There has been a lot of criticism of the fact that only Local Authorities will be able to use this, with some branding it ‘pointless’. For example
David Cox, chief executive of ARLA Propertymark, said: “When this legislation was first announced, we were wildly supportive – anything which will help eradicate bad letting agents and landlords has our full support.
“However, the outcome is disappointing. The database won’t be public, which means no one will be able to see it and therefore letting agents and landlords who are on the list can continue operating with impunity.
“This appears to be a pointless exercise. If the list were made public – like the equivalent for estate agents – rogue agents and landlords would leave the market for good.”
The new guidance tries to deal with this criticism by encouraging Local Authorities to make successful banning orders public anyway.
Courts and Court closures
There are a couple of interesting articles in the Law Society Gazette, one on the threat by the Ministry of Justice to make yet more court closures. Those threatened are:
Banbury Magistrates’ Court, Maidenhead Magistrates’ Court, Cambridge Magistrates’ Court, Chorley Magistrates’ Court, Fleetwood Magistrates’ Court, Northallerton Magistrates’ Court, Wandsworth County Court and Blackfriars Crown Court.
‘There has been no proper assessment of what physical infrastructure will still be needed after new technologies are in place,’ said [Law Society] president Joe Egan. ‘If current proposals are implemented unchanged, people will lose access to their local courts and potentially have to travel hundreds of miles to alternative sites.’
Also in the consultation exercise
the Magistrates Association said victims and witnesses must always have the choice to give evidence in person or remotely, and that taking away their local court removes that choice. The group expresses misgivings about the use of alternative buildings, requiring the provision of extra security staff, separate waiting rooms and extra conference areas.
There is also concern at the potential ‘devaluing’ of local justice, with magistrates sitting further from their niehgbourhoods and news organisations less likely to cover court proceedings if they cannot easily get to local courts.
‘We have serious concerns that more court closures and increased use of technology as a default will fundamentally undermine the fairness and effectiveness of the system,’ said the association. ‘More research is needed to fully understand any negative impacts on fair participation and therefore the legitimacy of the system as a result of removing physical access to hearings.’
This is particularly important for landlords as court orders are the only way they can recover possession of their properties if tenants refuse to leave.
Legal Aid problems for housing possession court duty schemes
Law Centres are challenging changes to the procurement changes for legal aid housing duty contracts. These include funding for the very important Court Duty schemes which give advice and help to tenants who are facing eviction hearings at court.
Julie Bishop, director of the Law Centres Network, said:
‘So far law centres have put up with all the changes to legal aid contracting from the unified contract to the LASPO [Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012] changes – each time at a cost of law centre closures. This time we have decided enough is enough. The decisions about the HPCD contract are not rational and potentially will impact significantly on law centres’ core work.
‘Attending the court duty schemes is important for law centres to advise vulnerable people at a time of real need. These are people who, by nature, do not seek help. This is why they end up in court facing eviction. The new contracting model therefore has a significant impact on access to justice and needs to be challenged.’
The Judicial Review hearing will take place in May
- The Southern Landlords Association has had a ‘re-brand’ and is now calling itself iHowz
- The new Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards are now in force. I wrote about them here.
- It looks as if a new How to Rent Guide (which landlords and agents need to give to all new tenants) is due to be published soon
- A 3D video of the Grenfell fire is being created to help understand how the disaster unfolded
Newsround will be back next week.