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Mandatory code and qualification are among final steps towards professional lettings

The proposed introduction of a mandatory code of practice and national qualification for letting agents are among the final steps towards a fully professional lettings sector, according to automated rental payment provider PayProp.

The new measures, announced in April, also include ongoing professional development and training for agents as well as increased support for leaseholders.They will be enforced by a ‘new independent regulator’, with those failing to comply risking being banned from trading and serious offenders facing possible prosecution.

The government’s latest proposals come alongside a range of other measures to regulate the lettings sector and crackdown on rogue operators in recent years.

Recent measures include a proposed ban on tenant fees, a cap on holding and security deposits, compulsory membership of a Client Money Protection (CMP) scheme, a blacklist of criminal agents and landlords and banning orders for offenders.

These come alongside more established regulation such as compulsory redress scheme membership, full fee disclosure, compliance with the Right to Rent scheme and mandatory deposit protection.

Effective combination of legislation is paramount

Once introduced, all of these measures will help to create a more professional lettings sector with a strong focus on protecting consumers’ money.

However, implementing new legislation and ensuring it combines effectively with existing regulations could prove to be the government’s biggest challenge.

“We welcome these proposals. Lettings will always be a customer service industry and professional standards should be at the heart of everything agents do,” says Neil Cobbold, chief operating officer of PayProp in the UK.

“However, with so many new measures being introduced over a short period of time, it’s crucial that the government takes a holistic and considered approach to ensure maximum effectiveness,” he adds.

“For example, the deposit cap and fees ban, compulsory CMP membership and these new proposals should be introduced as part of a coherent and logical step-by-step process under the banner of professional standards.”

“A piecemeal or scattergun approach could be counterproductive, leaving agents and consumers in the dark,” he says.

Key questions will need to be answered

Amid a mixed industry reaction to these proposals, there remain several issues – concerning timescales, enforcement and sanctions – which will need to be addressed in due course.

“From announcement to introduction, it will have taken well over two years for the ban on fees to be implemented which may lead the industry to believe a similar timescale may be expected for these new measures,” explains Cobbold.

“What’s more, it’s unclear at this stage whether the new independent regulator will work alongside or independently of the existing redress schemes and how much the maximum fines for the worst offenders will be.”

Transparency and technology are the future

As the private rental market becomes increasingly regulated by the government, the professional standards of letting agents can be increased further with the help of PropTech.

“Minimum standards will help to rid the sector of rogue agents and effective adoption of technology can facilitate improved levels of professionalism across the industry,” Cobbold explains.

“Automated PropTech solutions like PayProp can provide agents with the platform to provide a transparent, efficient and streamlined lettings service to their landlords.”