Housing minister told to get to grips with PRS

Pressure is continuing to mount on new housing minister Mark Prisk to get to grips with the private rental sector.

Prisk – who is currently treading the party line that he will not regulate either agents or landlords, although before he got his ministerial job he had tried to get just such a measure enacted – is to be pressed for action following a meeting at the House of Lords.

Last Friday’s event was organised by Lord Richard Best, chairman of the independent council which oversees The Property Ombudsman, and was attended by organisations with varied interests in the lettings industry.

TPO is one of several bodies piling pressure on Prisk, its meeting coming just as Which? was preparing to issue its own report (see separate story), and in the same week that the RICS said the private rented sector was like the Wild West.

Last week’s House of Lords event launched a new report commissioned by TPO. ‘Regulating Residential Letting Agents: The Issues and Options’ was written by leading academic Professor Michael Ball, of Reading University.

The forum was attended by 34 individuals from key organisations including ARLA, NALS, RICS, OFT, Shelter and Which? as well as several letting agencies.

Tom Lynch, who heads the Property Services Regulatory Authority in the Republic of Ireland, also attended to outline how regulation of the property sales and lettings industry is organised there.

In his introduction to the report, Lord Best pointed out that letting agents in Scotland and Wales already operate under more stringent conditions than their counterparts in the rest of the UK, who are thought to earn around £1bn per annum from a market that brings in £14bn.

Lord Best said: “In Scotland and Wales, there are more stringent regulations, and all agents in the Republic of Ireland now come under a statutory regulator.

“Does the scale of the sector in England, and the damage caused by some ‘cowboy’ operators, mean more extensive regulation is needed here?

“TPO asked the eminent academic, Professor Michael Ball, to investigate these issues, and this thought-provoking and cogent report is the outcome.

“We hope it will start a wide debate and guide the thinking of both the Government and the industry in deciding ‘what next?’ for this vital part of the nation’s housing sector.”

Bill McClintock, chairman of TPO’s operating company, said all those attending the forum had agreed to work together on further research.

He said: “Those attending the event agreed that as regulation through legislation was not a Government priority, it was their responsibility to work together and bring about a regime that reduces risk for the consumer.

“To that end, Lord Best will be meeting with the Housing Minister, Mark Prisk, who is on record as supporting some form of regulation for lettings agents. Lord Best will be seeking Government encouragement to maintain progress in this matter.”