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A victory for commonsense

Dianne Hayter

Dianne Hayter on a late but welcome u-turn from Ministers over regulation of lettings agents

Ever since moving my amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill to require letting agents to belong to an Ombudsman Scheme, I have been overwhelmed by messages of support from landlords, tenants and friends of people scorched by their own poor experiences. Hidden charges, double charges (i.e. making both the landlord and the tenant pay for the same item), misleading adverts, withholding deposits, foot dragging – to say nothing of discourtesy and carelessness about other people’s homes.  

In the Lords, the Coalition whipped its troops against the amendment despite widespread support from estate agents, most letting agents (it’s the bad ones we want to change), the British Property Federation, RICS, Which?, Consumer Focus – and a host of others. In opposition, Mark Prisk, now Housing Minister, decried the Labour government for not including letting agents in the law requiring estate agents to join an Ombudsman, but in office he has appeared deaf to our attempts to rectify this. 

Despite the government’s opposition, we won the vote (back in early February) and yesterday afternoon heard – “at the door of the court”, in this case of public opinion – that Ministers will now accept the amendment’s aim. As a result, every letting and residential managing agent will have to sign up to a recognised Ombudsmen Scheme. 

Such a scheme is the lowest rung of any form of regulation, and we have proposed further protections as part of the Labour’s Party housing policy review. Nevertheless, the government’s eleventh hour concession is a great victory for commonsense; and a victory for every tenant and landlord who rely on such agents to rent or look after their property. It might also encourage potential landlords to enter the lettings market, as it ensures they have the opportunity to lodge a complaint and get redress where dissatisfied with their agent. 

Thanks to wide support in the Lords, the efforts of the relevant professional organisations, and Shadow Housing Minister Jack Dromey’s campaigning, the Coalition has now seen the light, ensuring that tenants or landlords can take their complaints to a neutral arbitrator who can deal with the problem. It will give consumers who rent the same right as consumers who buy, and is a welcome first step towards proper regulation of the sector. It will also make a difference to people’s homes and therefore their lives.

Baroness Dianne Hayter of Kentish Town speaks for Labour on consumer affairs issues in the Lords

Published 16th April 2013