Code of practice for agents – have your say

The new code is out for consultation until 4 September

A proposed code of practice for property agents is now out for consultation, so block managers can take a look and comment on the proposals. These include 14 recommendations made by Lord Best in his Regulation of Property Agents report published last year. The code proposes a set of principles underpinning the professional standards that will be expected of residential property agents in the future.

The Code is split into two sections: ‘Dealing with consumers’ and ‘Managing businesses and staff’ and it applies both to the conduct and behaviour of agency firms and to agents as individuals. It will apply to anyone working in property sales and to lettings agents and property managers, as well as to auctioneers and property guardians. The code will also sit above the sector-specific codes that already regulate agents working in particular markets such as leasehold, retirement housing and build-to-rent.

The 14 recommendations are:

  • Agents must act legally, ethically, with honesty and integrity.
  • Agents must seek to avoid conflicts of interest, and where this is unavoidable, declare all conflicts of interest and ensure these are managed properly.
  • Agents must treat all consumers fairly and equally.
  • Agents must comply with all relevant legislation.
  • Agents must act with due skill, care, and diligence.
  • Agents must communicate clearly, accurately, and transparently to represent correctly their service or product.
  • Agents must report breaches of the relevant code(s) to the new Regulator.
  • Agents must be open and transparent with the new Regulator about matters that might affect their or others’ trust in the profession.
  • Agents must disclose and report any information relating to a property that could threaten a resident’s safety or does not conform to relevant mandatory property standards.
  • Agents must manage their businesses and staff effectively.
  • Agents must make appropriate arrangements to protect consumers’ money.
  • Agents must maintain appropriate accounts and records (*) of their business activities.
  • Agents must ensure that all staff are qualified and capable to handle responsibilities delegated to them.
  • Agents must handle information sensitively and in accordance with data protection legislation.

If you think some of these proposals sound woolly and are wondering exactly what they mean, the full consultation explains in detail what will need to be done to comply with each point.

And regulation just got serious because, in future, a serious failure to meet the new standards could mean regulatory or criminal action being taken against an agency and/or its staff. So this consultation is a really important one and is well worth contributing to if you have strong views.

To read the full consultation paper and to have your say click here.
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too:

How will property management change after COVID-19?

Will it be business as usual after lockdown or will there be long-term implications?

How much will change for property management as a result of COVID-19 will depend on the extent to which each managing agent has already digitised their offering.

At Ringley, we have long had portals for clients, owners, tenants and contractors. We already use open book accounting with instant updates to spending against budget and every invoice is online, together with arrears reports, legal debt-chase action, risk assessments, insurance, quotes in progress, cleaning specifications and more. We also have e-post opt-in, e-signing for key documents and apps to power inspections. And our lettings business Life by Ringley has been using video viewings for a while now. So we have moved pretty seamlessly to remote working and our customers should have noticed very little change in the way our services are delivered

That said, apart from the way we work day-to-day, post-COVID-19, there may be changes to the wider workplace that couldn’t have been foreseen a couple of months ago. So what will be the next normal? The pandemic will surely accelerate the decrease in space requirements per person. It is also causing the analysts among us to review and find more ways to exclude paper and print from our processes.

Ringley Group MD Maryanne Bowring believes that, for the foreseeable future, it is doubtful whether any company can expect all their people to work in the office five days a week: “To me, it seems simpler to have a whole department out at the same time, rather than not knowing who to expect in the office each day. More casual arrangements are not the most efficient way of working,” she says.

“However,” she adds: “I do know that while we are all working in isolation, many of our people are reflecting on the value that attending the workplace, sharing lunch and being part of a face-to-face physical team brings”.

What has changed for you during lockdown? Leave us a comment and start the conversation.
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too:

Are good property managers now needed more than ever?

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Good communication – at a distance – between property managers and their clients and residents is more important than ever before

The work of a managing agent is to manage, arrange and communicate. We do this for groups of people who need to receive information about maintenance, upgrades, current spending, and future plans but who otherwise would be uncoordinated – they wouldn’t know what was going on, or what was expected of them.

Our role is varied and many-faceted and the challenge is to carry it out effectively and sensitively. We deal on a daily basis with:

  • inter-personal politics and dissemination of information;
  • customer service, helping those who come to us for advice understand the roles and responsibilities within communal living and how a financial year in property works;
  • building pathology to deal with reactive maintenance, planned maintenance and cyclical works; 
  • law to gain a shared understanding of covenants and responsibilities which sometimes need to be enforced; and
  • bookkeeping and accounting.   

Luckily for us and our clients, while our core business is property, the human relationships, regulation, and compliance in what is a complex and highly legislated industry are all things that can be managed remotely.  Not forever though. We very much need to be in touch with the buildings we manage and those who live in them.  There is no substitute for seeing and feeling a problem, and in the short term photos and more conversations than we would normally have with clients and residents are painting pictures of what we need to see.

We have switched to video conferencing to ensure that Annual General Meetings can take place, and we have had over 6,000 customers opt-in to more by e-post.

Our main challenge is finding contractors with the capacity to attend our sites – and in some instances, availability of suitable protective equipment – and clients look to us to ensure that we have responsibly advised the supply chain.

During this pandemic, the need for strong communication is crucial, particularly as residents who are ‘staying home’ have more time for scrutiny of their home environment.  The challenge of  ‘managing and arranging’ has become increasingly complex with trades and supply chains hampered by ill, self-isolating or furloughed staff and many contractors not willing to enter people’s homes. There has also been confusion over which maintenance tasks should be considered, although the government has now published guidance on electrical and gas safety checks as well as lift inspections.  

So, perhaps in these strange times, our services are needed more than ever.

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too:

Could BTL investors avoid 3% stamp duty surcharge following tax tribunal ruling?

Buy-to-let investors could soon fill the HMRC with stamp duty surcharge refund requests. This is following on from a potential precedent set at a recent tax tribunal that saw a couple acquire a neglected building and were able to refute the additional 3% stamp duty charge on purchases of second homes.

It was revealed at the tribunal, held in Bristol, that potentially, buy to let investors could avoid paying the 3% stamp duty surcharge. This instance could cause many more landlords who have already paid the surcharge, to demand a refund from HMRC and suggests that many property purchases could fall short of the additional 3% surcharge and just consist of the standard rate stamp duty.

Paul and Nikki Bewley acquired their uninhabitable bungalow in Western-super-Mare and made the decision to bulldoze the original build in order to make way for a new property, thinking they would not accountable for the 3% charge for Taking on the additional property.

HMRC argued this view, believing that the 3% charge was applicable, as the property was capable of being used as a dwelling sometime in the future.

However, a recent tax tribunal ruled against the HMRC and in favour of Paul and Nikki Bewley, stating that they are only able to charge the 3% if the home is in an acceptable living condition right away.

HMRC has yet to decide on an appeal, stating: “We’re considering the judgment carefully.”

But, this ruling suggests that many buy-to-let landlords could be exempt from the 3% surcharge, when buying a property that is uninhabitable at the time they purchased it.

Commercial Trust Limited, a specialist buy-to-let broker, considers that this ruling could represent an opportunity for past claims from buy-to-let investors who have paid the additional 3% charge on properties that were uninhabitable at the time of purchase.