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Government goes on holiday as agents go on waiting

It’s holiday time: schools have broken up, quite a few estate agents are taking time off, and the MPs are in recess - and in their case, they don’t return to work until September 4.

You might think with six weeks away from Parliament (albeit with plenty of constituency work, I’m sure), MPs in general and the government in particular would be tidying up any unfinished business.

Yet - and not for the first time - when it comes to agency-related legislation, we’re still in the dark about what politicians have in store.

There are three major pieces of regulation, announced some time ago yet still without a firm timetable for implementation:

  1. The Tenants’ Fees Bill: this is of course still going through Parliament and its Report Stage (a part of the lengthy process for a Bill to become a Law) is set for September 5.

So far so good, but just before the Parliamentary recess I asked the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government if it could give a timescale for implementation - and answer came there none.

We have a long-standing pledge from the government that it would come into effect next year, and the formal move of the Bill through the Commons and the Lords is titled ‘Tenants Fees Bill 2017-19’ - but we have nothing more specific than that, making it difficult for letting agencies to forecast income for the future.

Remember, the ban on letting agents’ levying fees on tenants in England and Wales was first announced in his 2016 autumn Budget statement...and we still have no implementation date.

  1. Improving the Home Buying and Selling Process: this is the formal title of the government probe into the sales and purchase process, embracing everything from faster conveyancing to further estate agency regulation.

The government’s consultation period on this began on October 22 2017 and finished on December 17. A summary of responses was published early in April this year - yet little has happened since. Will there be legislation? Will it all be considered too complex and time consuming to tackle while Brexit is going on? Well, bluntly, we don’t know.

We’ve had hints of course - NTSEAT are surveying referral fees, leading to speculation these will be banned; further regulation and formal qualifications are likely to be required from estate agents, according to other government statements. Yet as to specifics, and as to timescale...well, nothing.

  1. A Housing Ombudsman: This was what former Housing Secretary Sajid Javid called his desire to see a single redress system covering all aspects of agency and other property issues - replacing five existing redress systems, three of which apply to agents.

Javid announced this intention in November last year - almost nine months ago. An eight-week consultation began on February 18 and ended on April 16.

The MHCLG website says “we are analysing your feedback” and - it probably goes without saying - when I asked on progress, I didn’t get a response.

Is this good enough? I don’t mean the lack of response - let’s face it, I’d probably have received a vague statement of intention even if the MHCLG had bothered to reply.

But what I mean is...is it good enough that a government unsettles an industry with pledges to change it fundamentally yet takes such a long time to make its intentions clear?

You might well say that with Brexit, it’s no surprise everything else takes a back seat.

Well, maybe - but it’s not that the MHCLG is short of staff. 

The publication Civil Service World (don’t laugh...I have to read widely for my job) says MHCLG has hired more new starters in 2017-18 than in the previous two years combined.

The publication says there was a 17 per cent growth in MHCLG headcount.

“The department said it had taken on 586 new starters in the 12 months to April this year, resulting in a headcount increase of 312 full-time equivalent staff. In 2016-17 it recruited 268 new starters. At the same time it managed to reduce staff turnover from 10.7 per cent in 2016-17 to 9.8 per cent in 2017-18” says Civil Service World.

Next time you ask your accountant about how to plug the gap left by the lettings fee ban or consider how you might be able to release negotiators for the mandatory training which (apparently) may be the lot of all agents...well, just ponder that departmental growth rate. 

Have a good summer!

*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting all things property @PropertyJourn

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