The founder of a new “approval” scheme for letting agents has strongly defended its launch, saying he is simply trying to identify better letting agents.
However, the scheme has sparked concerns.
One source told Eye they were worried that a new body could be trying to step into the industry as a regulator, while an agent said that the organisation behind the scheme, The Tenants Voice, should be open about its business plans.
The Tenants Voice has also denied it is anti-agent, after publicising its finding that most tenants would rather rent directly from a landlord.
According to a survey of 1,100 tenants by The Tenants Voice, 64% would prefer not to go through an agent.
Its new “approved” scheme of letting agents comes with its own code of conduct.
It is already listing 18,000 branches – the large majority of whom do not have approved status.
The status is explained on the site: “A Non-Approved letting agent has failed our Approval criteria, or has not been assessed by our team.”
Approved status is given to agents who have been “manually researched to ensure that they have Ombudsman Services or Property Ombudsman Membership, plus ARLA, NALS or RICS membership. They must declare that they comply 100% with our Code of Conduct”.
Vetted status is for agents who had been assessed as fulfilling the criteria for approved status, but have not yet “formally confirmed that they abide by our Code of Conduct”.
Eye spoke to The Tenants Voice founder Glenn Nickols, himself a tenant in London, who strongly denied that his site is anti-letting agent.
He said: “We are helping identify good agents and letting them prosper. We are trying to achieve better relationships between tenants and letting agents.”
We asked why The Tenants Voice did not simply promote the existing membership bodies but Nickols suggested that they were not doing a good enough job at promoting themselves.
Agent Michael Quinn of rent2gohomes in Warrington told Eye: “My main concern is the way the agent approval rating is presented. Would a potential tenant understand this, or would they just assume the agent is not to be trusted or they have failed the approval process?
“In some respects this feels like commercial arm-twisting by Tenants Voice. I am happy to see industry standards improved, but is this a fair way to do it?
“I also feel they should not list agents en masse, and they should have approved express consent to list any agent on their website.”
He also called for The Tenants Voice to make its business plan clear, and added: “I wonder who regulates The Tenants Voice.”
Eye raised Quinn’s points with Nichols, saying that by not making it clear whether a Non-Approved agent has failed or not yet been assessed, this could be damaging to good agents. Nickols agreed to take this on board.
But he said: “We have rejected 20% or 19% of [letting agent] applicants, because they lied to us. They told us they had memberships of certain bodies, but when we checked for example with ARLA, they didn’t.”
He said that the 18,000-listing of letting agents was taken from information in the public domain. He said one agent had asked for their details to be removed, but he had refused.
However, after Quinn queried The Tenants Voice in an online forum, his listing has apparently been taken down.
Nickols founded The Tenants Voice in 2012 and launched the website a year later. He says it has 20,000 unique visitors a month, and close to 30,000 followers on Facebook.
According to The Tenants Voice survey, 47% of tenants do not trust letting agents and 52% feel that letting agents do the bare minimum to provide services in line with the duty of care they owe to tenants.
More than a quarter (28%) believe agents do not provide them with a suitable duty of care, the survey claims.
Nearly a third of respondents (32%) had never heard of any of the main letting agent schemes, while over a quarter of tenants (27%) say they do not know how to recognise a good letting agent.
The survey – which contains spelling mistakes such as “clossely” and “commited”– also claims that the comparatively little-used Ombudsman Services scheme has the greatest awareness of all schemes among tenants at 21%, while the far larger TPO has just 17% awareness.
ARLA has 12% awareness, RICS 9% and SafeAgent 4%. NALS has only 3% awareness.
Of its own approved letting agent scheme, the site describes this as exclusive, with membership free and open to only 30% of agents.
Nickols said the site will eventually monetise itself by the sale of products such as window stickers and utility switching. It will not charge agents to be on its approved list, he said, “because they will not be able to buy their way in”.
The site is here
The full survey is here