New enforcement toolkit launched to help councils root out rogue letting agents

Monday, June 27th, 2016 - National Approved Letting Scheme

The National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS) has created a toolkit to help local authorities tackle rogue letting agents who fail to comply with the law.

NALS worked in collaboration with a number of local councils and experts in the private rented sector (PRS), to create the Effective Enforcement Toolkit. The first of its kind in the industry, the kit walks local authority enforcement officers step-by-step through the legalities and requirements for regulating letting agents.

At London Property Licensing, we are delighted to have worked with NALS to develop this innovative toolkit and are delighted with the results.

The toolkit is designed to assist local authority enforcement officers to take effective action to tackle rogue letting agents that fail to comply with the law. In particular, it explores the requirement for letting agents to belong to a government approved redress scheme and to display their fees, redress scheme membership and client money protection status.

Following the cuts that left some local authorities without specialist knowledge and skills to effectively regulate the private rented sector, NALS saw a need to support cash strapped councils protect local residents.

Research conducted by NALS found that while 84% of local authorities had taken some steps to promote new requirements for letting agents, only 16% had issued any civil penalties for failure to comply with redress scheme membership, and less than half (46%) had sent any warning letters to agents.

The research was based of a survey of 37 local authorities across England, conducted during August/September 2015 by London Property Licensing on behalf of NALS.

NALS aims to give councils the tools to help protect tenants and landlords alike, by enforcing these requirements effectively, while also raising standards and professionalism in the industry.

The NALS toolkit includes warning letters to letting agents who are failing to comply with legal duties, advice on serving civil penalties and even advice on highlighting enforcement action to the local media. In particular, the kit highlights to local authorities:

  • The requirement by law for letting agents to belong to a government approved redress scheme
  • Agents to display their fees, redress scheme membership and client money protection status.
  • The power to issue civil penalties of up to £5,000 on agents that don’t comply.

Isobel Thomson, Chief Executive of NALS said:

More and more of us are choosing to live in privately rented housing, but public opinion of the private rented sector remains mixed. When an agent’s service is not up to scratch, landlords and tenants have every right to complain – but they need to know where to go and what their rights are.

Only by raising standards across the sector can we start to tackle the small minority whose rogue activities tarnish our reputation. This toolkit is designed to be a ‘one stop shop’ for Local Authorities working with the private rented sector. They are, after all, in the enforcement front line. Working together, we help to make living in the private rented sector a positive experience.

Property Ombudsman Katrine Sporle, said:

This is great news for the Private Rented Sector and one that we whole heartedly support. We welcome all practical help for local authorities in our combined quest to raise standards and ensure transparency in the industry.

Last year, the National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team (NTSEAT) launched a similar toolkit for the sales market, so it is good to see that local authorities will now have step-by-step guidance of the legalities and requirements for regulating letting agents.

In particular, the Private Rented Sector toolkit highlights the need for letting agents to display their fees and redress scheme membership. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 requires all letting agents to display the fees they charge to landlords and tenants, as well as which redress scheme they are a member of. There is a small minority of agents who still don’t comply with current legislation, so having these tools in place to enforce requirements effectively will help to tackle rogue activity within the industry.

The toolkit was launched at a London Trading Standards Lettings Group meeting on Monday 27 June and a copy of the toolkit can be downloaded below.