Agent named in Parliament says his conscience is clear
Friday 11th June 2010
An agent who was named – and apparently shamed – by an MP in the House of Commons has said his conscience is crystal clear.
The debate, reported in Hansard, included a minister’s reply which described the agent as “callous”.
The adjourment debate on housing was called by Andrew George, the Lib Dem MP for St Ives in Cornwall.
He told the House of one family he had tried to help, who had been living in a one-bed flat. The couple had found themselves in and out of work and “were unable to maintain the housing benefit at rental levels”.
George stated: “They found themselves under a great deal of pressure from their letting agent at the time. I will quote from a letter that the letting agent, Antony Richards Property Services, sent to my constituents: ‘In the absence of any rent forthcoming and your apparent refusal to help yourselves by providing the information… we are left with no alternative but to seek to enforce the possession notice served last year… The Council will deem you as intentionally homeless and are highly unlikely to offer you accommodation. You will then be homeless. The choice is yours. I am told the streets are cold at night.’”
The MP said: “Such treatment of local families in a desperate situation is not acceptable.”
CLG minister Andrew Stunnell replied: “The House will have been appalled to hear of the case that my Hon. Friend drew to our attention and of the callous words of the letting agent as they affected his constituent.”
The minister went on: “Some tenants in that sector face problems of overcrowding, poor-quality accommodation and difficulties with the letting agents themselves. I certainly have a great deal of sympathy for anyone who suffers as a result of poor practice by a letting or managing agent.
“We advise anyone contemplating renting or letting a property through an agent to use one who is a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors scheme, the Association of Residential Letting Agents or the National Approved Letting Scheme.”
However, Antony Richards Property Services is a member of both RICS and NALS, and Estate Agent Today has seen the trail of correspondence that the firm wrote over a period of time to the tenants, who were also named in Parliament. The letters make it clear that the firm was acting fairly, professionally and sympathetically, in relation to a couple who had not handed over their rent money for three months.
A possession notice issued last June gave them until the end of September to leave, but was not enforced, with both the firm and landlord wanting to give the tenants every chance.
In December the firm did not receive rent, because the couple’s housing benefit had been suspended. The firm found this was because the couple needed to give the benefit department some information.
The agents wrote to the couple urging them to help themselves. Finally, Antony Richards himself wrote to them warning them of the real danger that they could be made homeless, adding the words: “I am told the streets are cold at night.”
At that stage, MP Andrew George became involved, forcing Antony Richards to give a detailed explanation. George was warned that his understanding of events was incorrect. The letter, which EAT has seen, makes it clear that the couple in question had been given much support and many chances to remain in their accommodation by both landlord and agent.
Antony Richards said of the reference to his firm in Parliament: “Taking one letter in isolation does not explain the whole issue.
“If anyone wanted to come and inspect the file, they are welcome to do so. My conscience is crystal clear.”
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