Major concerns have been raised about people’s privacy and security threats to empty properties because, barring a U-turn, ‘redacted’ domestic EPCs will not be allowed.
There is speculation that publication of the long-awaited Government guidance, including Q & As for agents, has been set back while civil servants re-examine the problem amid claims that EPCs with addresses could provide a happy hunting ground for property fraudsters, burglars, squatters and gossip columnists.
However, yesterday afternoon the Department for Communities and Local Government insisted that residential EPCs, for both sales and lettings, must always include the property’s address. There will be no exceptions.
It said that the full address was required to prevent fraudulent EPCs, and to ensure that people could identify that the EPC went with the right property.
However, the spokesman did not say when the long-awaited guidance to agents, with Qs and As, will be issued.
Even if the guidance does not have to be rewritten and approved, agents will still have at best only a short time to get to grips with the changes, due to be implemented on Good Friday – April 6.
CLG has acted to make it clear that although commercial EPCs can be redacted – guidance has been issued on this by the department – residential EPCs cannot be.
This means that the front page of the EPC which agents must attach to both their online and print particulars – and for both lettings and sales – will display the address of the property.
CLG has taken the view that this is a legal requirement, and that it could be illegal to remove it from the EPC.
Several agents have expressed their concerns that including the addresses will breach people’s privacy and could lead to property fraud.
Some have also suggested ways of digitally removing the address.
But Ian Potter, operations manager of ARLA, warned: “Use of software to do so will almost certainly constitute a criminal offence, as it will be altering a legal document.
“It would be no different from removing the signature of the Chief Cashier of the Bank of England from a ten pound note.”
Potter is advising agents not to attempt to devise means of redacting EPCs, pending further clarification from the Government department.
One difficulty is that simply putting an address on an EPC will not breach the Data Protection Act, which protects personal information but not property information.
However, it raises a large number of concerns.
One of these is that squatters on the look-out for empty properties could use EPCs.
Celebrity watchers could also use EPCs to work out which celeb was selling up. However, the issues of privacy and home security could be potentially problematic for all sellers and landlords.
Not only that, but addresses shown on EPCs are likely to lead to an increase in touting from other agents – although they would risk breaching the Property Ombudsman code.
Potter said: “My advice to agents is to hold fire on changing their IT systems until we have got clear and definitive guidance. We are continuing to press hard for this and will circulate it to our members as soon as possible.”
EAT raised concerns with CLG and yesterday afternoon a spokesman confirmed that only commercial EPCs can have addresses redacted.
He said: “The existing 2007 Regulations prohibit the alteration of the EPC once it has been registered.
“The only exemption to this is contained in the amending Regulations that will come into force on April 6.
“A provision will be made to allow the omission of the address from the first page copy of the EPC that is attached to the written particulars when the address has also been omitted from the written particulars.
“A further amendment to the Regulations which also comes into force on April 6 will require that the redaction is carried out by the keeper of the Register. The further amendment to the Regulations will also restrict this exception to properties which are non-residential.
“The service being provided by the Register Operator will enable the address to be removed from the commercial EPC only.
“Property agents’ representatives agreed with this approach during discussions held with them.
“We are aware of anecdotal evidence which suggests that incorrect EPCs have been used in relation to properties marketed for sale or for rent.
“The requirement to attach the first page copy of the EPC will help reduce fraudulent incidents.
“Furthermore, in order to meet Green Deal disclosure requirements, when a property with a Green Deal is transacted, potential buyers and tenants must be able to identify that the EPC provided is the correct one for that property.”
Property Ombudsman Christopher Hamer said that agents should obviously obey the law, but that it would be best practice for them to advise prospective clients before instruction about addresses being displayed on EPCs.