For anyone asking, are estate agents regulated? There is a two-fold answer that explains the current and future legal situation which affects everyone buying and selling property in the UK.
There is currently no legal framework for an estate agent to have any qualifications before setting up a business, but this is set to change.
However, they are all are regulated under the Estate Agents Act 1979, which lays down their duties involving:
- Property buyers;
- Property sellers.
The Act makes clear the right for an estate agent to charge a commission, and states that sellers and buyers should understand their contract’s terms before entering into it.
However, all this is set to change – and should already have done so – because a new regulatory framework covering all estate agents in the UK, and also for managing and letting agencies in England, will come into place.
What is the definition of an estate agent?
Under the current law, an estate agent is defined as someone who is negotiating or introducing those who are selling or buying a leasehold or freehold property as part of their business.
The main regulations are covered under:
- The Estate Agents Act 1979;
- The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
The laws currently lay down minimum standards of behaviour for those in the profession, while the unfair trading regulations help protect buyers and sellers wanting to choose an estate agent they can trust from:
- Misleading trading practices;
- Unfair trading practices;
- Misleading omissions;
- Aggressive sales tactics.
It’s also worth noting that under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007, every UK estate agent who is engaging in residential work must belong to an approved redress scheme that will deal with complaints about the selling and buying of property.
Who currently regulates estate agents in the UK?
The responsibility for regulating the activities in the UK comes under the remit of the National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team, which is delivered by Powys County Council.
They assess whether a business or individual anywhere in the UK is fit to carry out estate agency work as laid out by the Estate Agents Act 1979.
The trading standards officers will then investigate any breach of the Act, and if the agency is in breach of any provisions, they can be considered for a warning or banning order.
Can I find out if an agent is banned?
Fortunately, the regulation of estate agents currently enables those who have been prohibited from engaging in any type of estate agency work to be listed on the Estate Agents Public Register.
This is done under the Estate Agents Act – along with those who have received a formal warning.
Making a complaint about an estate agent
One of the reasons that someone may be searching online to find out whether estate agents are regulated is because they have had an issue.
Under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007, they all must be a member of an approved redress scheme.
You can then use this redress scheme to make a complaint – if an initial complaint has not been resolved amicably. There are two leading redress schemes, and they are:
Each of these schemes has a website with a list of its members.
What are the qualifications for estate agents?
As mentioned, the current regime is about to change in the way estate agents are licensed, trained, and regulated. For many, the legislation cannot come soon enough for an industry with a poor reputation and who offer what can be expensive services to sell a home.
The proposals have been made by the Regulation of Property Agents Working Party that was created by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
These ideas looked set to be part of legislation in the future, and there will be:
A new regulator
This will be a new public body to deliver good governance, transparency and accountability.
All agents will be licenced
In the future, estate agents will need the appropriate credentials and qualifications and to display a licence that they can practice. The new regulator will ensure that they will, before they are granted a licence, be fulfilling their legal obligations including the membership of a redress scheme. They must also pass a ‘fit and proper’ person test.
A new estate agents’ code of practice
The legislation will also include a code of practice to lay down clear standards for estate agents’ behaviour. This will highlight that they must act with integrity and honesty, their staff must be qualified and any conflict-of-interest must be declared. The new law will also state that the agency must have an effective complaints procedure in place.
Qualifications for estate agents
Estate agencies will have a legal obligation to train their staff to an appropriate level, and in future, there may be a specific qualification to deliver quality control.
The law covering estate and letting agents
When the new proposals for the law covering estate and letting agencies were published, the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), and the Association of Residential Lettings Agents (Arla), issued a statement which said:
“This is a huge leap in stamping out bad practice and a significant moment for the property industry. We have called for government intervention to ensure everyone in the industry is licenced, adheres to a strict code of practice and holds a Level 3 qualification (A-level). The government wants to create a structure for a properly regulated body where professional skills and knowledge are respected and trusted by all.”
Are estate agents regulated currently?
So, while estate agencies do have legislation to control their activities currently and must offer a means of redress for clients who are unhappy, the government and the industry have responded to calls for regulation with the creation of a new governing body.
The new code of practice and a minimum level of professional qualifications before entering the industry means that those dealing in property, whether as a buyer or seller, will have some satisfaction in knowing they are dealing with professionals and that any issues will be quickly resolved.
And professional bodies are urging them to meet the requirements of the proposed law before it is enacted.
When it comes to finding a reputable estate agent, then word of mouth from friends and family will still go a long way – otherwise, the new legislation to professionalise the industry will benefit us all.
What about rentals? Are letting agents regulated?
While that appears to be a simple question – the answer depends on where your property and agent are in the UK because different rules apply in different countries.
The answer for England is that letting agents are not regulated but in Scotland, all agents have to be registered since October last year to carry out work.
Not being registered is a criminal offence if someone is carrying out letting agency work there.
Along with being registered, letting agents in Scotland need to undergo training, and there’s also a new letting agent code of practice which extends to agents and those managing property which sets out the standards that agents must meet in delivering services and how their client’s money is handled.
Landlords and agents managing property
The situation in Wales is also highly regulated with all landlords and agents managing property needing to be licensed under laws there.
The Rent Smart Wales scheme sets out the minimum criteria for a letting agent, which includes their having professional indemnity insurance in place so the landlord can be compensated should their agent be negligent.
They must also ensure that they protect their client money so the landlord is not left out of pocket should they go bust.
In Northern Ireland, agents are not regulated currently but there are proposals in place for big changes to the private rental sector, including agent regulation and the banning of charging tenants letting agent fees.
The proposals are currently in a state of flux because the Northern Ireland government has collapsed, so no action has been able to be taken.
Using a quality letting agent
Ultimately, using a quality letting agent will provide a landlord client with advice and guidance to make a success of their property investment and sometimes this advice can be priceless.
So, while the picture for the regulation of letting agents in the UK is a mixed one currently, the entire sector is moving towards professionalism and accountability which will deliver the reassurance and profitability that landlords and investors are hoping for.
If despite all of this you’re still considering going alone, you’ll want to read our guide to finding tenants without a letting agent.