This week (6-10 June) is SAFEagent Awareness Week and an opportunity for Savills, as a member of the scheme, to highlight the risks of letting or renting through an agent without a Client Money Protection (CMP) Scheme.
It may come as a shock to hear that there is no legal obligation for a lettings agent to be licensed. In theory, anyone can set up an agency and take rent and deposits without someone checking or regulating whether they are either qualified or competent.
In order to try and protect any deposits or rents being held by an agent should he or she go into liquidation or disappear, landlords and tenants are advised to use an agent who is a member of a professional body, such as ARLA (Association of Residential Lettings Agents), RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) or NALS (National Approved Letting Scheme).
These schemes regulate the private rented sector, acting completely independently of their member agents.They require their members to follow their Code of Practice and Rules of Conduct, continuously keeping up to date with the latest legislative changes and regulations affecting lettings and ensuring there is a CMP Scheme in place. Agents are also required to have the following as a minimum:
- The provision of professional indemnity insurance in order to protect landlords and tenants from financial losses incurred through negligent or misleading advice.
- Defined accounting standards relating to clients’ money – Savills has a designated ‘client account’ where clients’ and tenants’ money is held completely separately from the operating funds of our firm and, as a result, is safeguarded.
- A customer complaints procedure so if something goes wrong, there is a system in place to follow. In October 2014, it became law for every lettings department in the country to belong to one of three mandatory redress schemes. Savills has long been a member of the Ombudsman Services: Property redress scheme, the membership of which ensures that when a dispute arises and if, having undergone the company’s internal complaints procedure, the aggrieved party remains unhappy with the outcome, there is the opportunity for that party to raise the issue with the relevant redress scheme who will independently assess and evaluate the case and its outcome.
- Be a member of an ombudsman scheme.
The potential legal and financial consequences of using an unlicensed agent in a sector which has grown and continues to grow increasingly litigious, are significant. Ultimately, the question a client or tenant should ask when deliberating over whether to choose a licensed agent is really ‘can I afford not to?’ The key, when you choose an agent, is to look for the SAFEagent logo.