A new scheme, SAFE agent, aims to reassure tenants and landlords that their money is held separately to the agency’s. Amazingly, this isn’t required by law, so is this scheme going to give renters peace of mind?
Estate agents who sell property have to join an approved industry consumer complaints scheme, but an agent who lets or manages rental property (and it may be the same person) doesn’t have to.
The government has now confirmed (as if there was any doubt given its anti-regulation bias) that it won’t intervene in the private lettings market to enforce higher standards.
Consumers certainly won’t understand this artificial distinction; and the Property Ombudsman also says it’s unsatisfactory.
It’s up to us to be informed
The government’s approach is instead to rely on consumers being better informed. Of course, at Which?, this is our lifeblood. Back in April we started a Conversation about a landlord’s responsibility to protect tenants’ deposits with an approved scheme, and we publish a range of books and online advice on housing issues.
So I suppose we should welcome the government doing its bit too. This week, it has published some helpful factsheets for tenants – your rights (and responsibilities), as well as a new factsheet for landlords too.
Will SAFE = safe?
Some industry players are also trying to raise their game, and that’s where the SAFE agent scheme comes in. This is a new scheme to help both landlords and tenants know if a letting agent meets best industry practice, in particular on holding client money separately from the firm’s money. All you have to do is look for the SAFE agent kitemark (left) to see if an agent’s involved.
Letting agents hold many thousands of pounds of both tenant money (such as their deposit money before it is deposited with one of the official schemes or rent payments en route to the landlord) and landlord money (monies to pay for repairs organised by the letting agent or rent from the tenant).
Amazingly, this does not, by law, have to be held separately from the firm’s own money. The result is that rogue firms can rather too easily abscond with your money or it can be lost if the letting agent goes bust.
In the meantime, the number of people renting property continues to rise. New tenant demand again outpaced supply of rental property in the three months to July, says the latest RICS Residential Lettings Survey.
So, there are ever more tenants and landlords out there. Do you have a horror story – or perhaps a good experience – to relate about a letting agent? Will you be looking out for a SAFE agent?