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By Graham Norwood

Editor, EAT & LAT

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Jenrick - Why his scandals matter to agents

It may be that by the time you read this it’s all over for Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

By all over, I mean he may well have resigned or been sacked following the lengthening list of planning controversies he has been linked to. 

If he goes or is fired, his long-term political career will be as good as over - although it’s worth pointing out that he and his department claim they have not been involved in any wrongdoing whatsoever.

If he does eventually go, the end of his political climb may well be the start of a lucrative second career - gently gently, slowly slowly, and almost certainly involving property development, where he appears to have found numerous useful contacts in recent months.

Even at the time of a pandemic, such is the stuff of Westminster, especially when politicians come into contact with super-wealthy developers at fund-raising dinners. 

What makes this issue important to the agency industry is that Robert Jenrick - not too busy to have involved himself intimately in planning decisions - has seemingly been unable to find time or have sufficient information to address two long-outstanding issues.

The first is what the government is going to do about the Regulation of Property Agents working party’s recommendations delivered to the politicians at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government some 50 weeks ago - yes, 50 weeks ago. 

Jenrick himself became Secretary of State for Housing two weeks after  - so that means the RoPA recommendations have been in his in-tray for 48 weeks. That’s 11 months.

As a reminder, RoPA called for a new independent regulator, licensing for all agents, a new code of practice, mandatory qualifications, and a new form of redress. It’s heady stuff which is right at the heart of our industry, and which appears to have been dismissed as insufficiently important for our Secretary of State to reach a decision.

When I contacted Jenrick’s department on Thursday of this week, the response was: “The Government is committed to raising the professionalism and standards of property agents, while defending the reputation of good agents from the actions of unscrupulous operatives. We will consider the working group’s recommendations carefully before announcing next steps.” 

Yes, that’s it after 11 months.

The second issue, also seemingly gathering dust in Jenrick’s in-tray, is the future of referral fees.

The National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agent Team put a paper to MHCLG in the first week of March this year outlining its assessment of how agents had behaved in relation to fees over the previous year.

You may recall that one-year timeframe was given to the industry by Heather Wheeler - a former junior housing minister until last summer.

Wheeler threatened the industry with a possible ban on referral fees if voluntary behaviour and transparency were not improved - and those points were the ones at the heart of the March NTSELAT report to Jenrick and his team. So again, it’s a report dealing with a subject central to estate agency’s financial well-being.

When I asked Jenrick’s department about the fate of this issue, I received no response at all.

The problem now, with both of these issues, is that Jenrick is seriously damaged goods.

If he stays, he will carry suspicion about several planning controversies swirling around him, and his ability to carry through reforms like RoPA will be severely reduced. 

If he goes - without deciding on RoPA or referral fees - he will have spent a year in office ignoring agency’s biggest issues and leaving it to yet another newcomer to take time to understand the arguments for and against.

Yes I know, the elephant in the room - coronavirus. 

Am I not being totally unfair to any politician to expect them to operate normally and efficiently during a pandemic?

Well, consider this. 

During more difficult times than any government could have imagined, this one has achieved an end to the Brexit departure saga, the introduction of a genuinely world-leading furlough scheme, the rapid construction of Nightingale hospitals, the creation of a series of business loan schemes, and more. 

Given the extraordinary circumstances, these are some undoubted achievements.

So why during that time hasn’t Robert Jenrick delivered on RoPA and referral fees? 

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

  • Mark Walmsley

    “Wheeler threatened the industry with a possible ban on referral fees if voluntary behaviour and transparency were not improved”.

    So we improve and make referral fees transparent. How complicated is this?

    Referrals still take time and they still require trust to be established between the parties involved. There is nothing negative about earning a referral fee we just have to declare it transparently.

    I don’t know why this is tasked to the Secretary of State for Housing either? Surely referral fees are not solely a “Property industry” income generator?

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