At the start of this month, Eric Pickles, minister for Communities and Local Government, launched a number of reforms intended to protect tenants renting a property.
Mr Pickles believes that the reforms will encourage longer, fixed-term stability for families, alongside raising standards within the private rental sector. In addition, Mr Pickles proposed the introduction of a tenants’ charter, which will ensure tenants know exactly what to expect from their agreement and where to go for help.
Reacting to Pickles’ announcement, Paul Weller, Managing Director of letting agency Leaders, said that despite the reforms being welcome, they needed to go further.
Leaders recently conducted a survey of over 5,000 tenants, of which 63% said that they did not know that letting agents were not subject to any type of regulation. Mr Weller said: “As it stands, it is up to tenants and landlords to protect themselves, but many are not even aware of the need to do so. The advice, in the absence of regulation, has been to only deal with agents who are members of a self-regulating professional body such as ARLA, RICS or NAEA, who operate to a strict code of conduct. Yet our survey found that just 42% of tenants considered membership of a professional body to be very important when choosing a letting agent. By comparison, 70% said that choice of available properties was very important to them in choosing their letting agent.”
Demand for rental accommodation is vastly outnumbering supply across much of the UK. With this in mind, Weller believes that a growing number of tenants are quickly renting properties that are suitable for them, without questioning who the agent is or if they are affiliated with a professional organisation. He indicates that this provides a threat, stating: “40% of letting agents are not members of a professional body, so it is clear that the public remains at risk.”
Weller goes on to expressively ask: “How many more tenants and landlords must be let down before the Government will regulate an industry that has been crying out for such measures for decades?” 
He believes: “You can have as many worthwhile laws, regulations, schemes and charters as you like, but if there is no regulation of the people who are supposed to abide by them, then only the good agents will do so, while the unscrupulous will continue to flout the law whenever they please.”
When asked for a solution to the problem, Weller offered a simple answer. He believes that all agents should be licensed in order to work and if they are not, it should be illegal for them to let.
Weller says: “We already have many sensible laws governing letting but, under the current system, anyone can set up as a letting agent with no qualifications, experience or knowledge of the legalities of letting. It is like stipulating laws for motorists in the interests of road safety and then allowing people to drive without having to prove they are capable or know the rules of the road.”