News from our partners: Letting agents reminded of their duties ahead of regional project checking compliance
News from our partners Central England Trading Standards Authorities group
Letting agents failing to comply with the law on protecting tenants’ and landlords’ money, or other legal requirements, could face fines of up to £30,000 when the 14 local Trading Standards authorities across the wider West Midlands region embark on a funded project to look at compliance with these legal protections.
The Central England Trading Standards Authorities [CEnTSA] group, which represents the region’s 14 authorities, has successfully bid for funding to carry out a project to check how compliant letting agents are in the region. The project will involve working jointly with housing officers in their respective authority areas, including district councils in two tier areas, with support from the National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agents Team [NTSELAT].
Since April 2019 letting agents have been required by law to belong to an approved Client Money Protection (CMP) scheme to ensure tenant and/or landlord money is protected should the business fail. In the West Midlands there are hundreds of letting agents handling client money every day, so any significant level of non-compliance with the law could leave considerable sums of tenant and/or landlord money at risk. Letting agents are also required to belong to an approved redress scheme and to publish their CMP certificate and other important information on their websites and in their offices.
A similar project began in London in 2020 and found hundreds of letting agents non-compliant with these requirements. Significant non-compliances resulted in fines of up to £30,000 issues by trading standards authorities in this London-wide enforcement operation.
Officers in the West Midlands are giving advance notice of this project to give businesses the opportunity to check that they are taking the steps necessary and that they are compliant. Advice will be available should agents have any queries, although significant work has already been done by NTSLEAT with the various professional representative bodies for agents. Failure to do so may mean non-compliant agents facing similar levels of fines to those in London.
Simon Wilkes, Chair of CEnTSA and Head of Worcestershire Regulatory Services, said:-
“West Midlands letting agents are handling huge amounts of tenants’ and landlords’ money every year, so it’s vital that this is protected in the event of business failure. Tenants are often some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and it important that the business sector recognizes this and acts accordingly. We realise that many businesses will already have these protections in place, and those who are unsure should use this opportunity to check they are doing what is necessary.
“This regional operation will enable us to step-up our efforts, particularly by working with our housing officer colleagues to identify the real rogues in this market. So, we’d ask anyone who operates in this area to get their affairs in order without delay and to seek assistance if you are unsure.”
This West Midlanda-wide crackdown will be supported by NTSELAT, which provides specialist advice, guidance and support to local authorities across the UK.
James Munro, Head of the National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agency Team, said:-
“Our officers are providing advice and guidance to support this enforcement initiative, helping to safeguard up to a billion pounds of consumers’ money. The intelligence gathered from this campaign will be used to support local authority investigations across the country, which will help protect consumers, raise compliance across the industry and boost consumer confidence.
“Agents who hold client money are required by law to be registered with an approved CMP scheme – and to inform tenants who they are registered with. To find out more, please visit www.gov.uk/client-money-protection-scheme-property-agents.
“Agents must join a redress scheme if you’re a letting agent or property manager in England or Wales. If a customer has a complaint about your service that you cannot resolve between yourselves, they can complain to the scheme. To find out more, please visit www.gov.uk/redress-scheme-estate-agencies “
If you are aware of any letting agent that is failing to comply with the law, then you can report this to your local trading standards service via the Citizens Advice Consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.
Central England Trading Standards Authorities (CEnTSA,) is a partnership body of the 14 local authority trading standards services across what was the Government Office West Midlands footprint.
The enforcement project is led by Trading Standards but will be supported by with housing officers from the relevant councils, which in two tier areas will mean officers from district and county councils working together on an aspect of their work which is cross cutting.
The National Trading Standards Estates and Letting Agents team (NTSELAT,) is the national body, which is funded by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) that provides support on letting agent issues across England, estate agency issues across the UK, and acts as the national enforcement backstop. It is based with Bristol City Council and Powys County Council.