Concerns as new approval scheme for letting agents launches

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

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18 Comments

  1. Trevor Mealham

    Um. ………. CPR’s as policed by Trading Standards class those under regulation as ‘lettings professionals’ NOT as Letting agents. …………  Maybe review sites should rate ‘lettings professionals’ rather than just agents

    I’m sure there are more rogue landlords out there, than agents who sign up to existing redress schemes.

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  2. Trevor Mealham

    The government guide is called:
    Guidance for lettings professionals on consumer protection law – applicable by actions, not just ‘leeting agent’ as a title.

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/319820/Lettings_guidance_CMA31.PDF

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  3. David Weston

    Thank you for alerting me to this website, I have emailed them to remove my company’s details.

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  4. Glenn Nickols

    Hello,

    This is a fair and balanced write-up about our site and expresses some valid concerns we will look to address over time. I feel correctly represented so thanks for the good journalism. (and the spell check) 🙂

    As a side, so far we have had 60+ agents search for themselves on the site after reading this story. 12 have gone on to register their business (i.e they were not in our directory and have added themselves) eight have applied for approval and 1 has asked to be removed.

    David, from looking at your website you meet our basic vetted criteria which means it is as easy for us to mark you as vetted as it is to remove you.  Indeed you meet the core basics for the free approved status subject to us performing our manual checks.

    I will however remove you as requested. Of course this means you’re not exposed to our 250,000 a year unique site visitors, but I respect your request.

    Glenn

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  5. agent123

    Out of the 1100 tenants questioned I wonder how many are already with private landlords? Another firm getting on the bandwagon, won’t be long until they team up with Shelter…

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  6. Robert May

    Hello Glenn, can you explain a bit more about the duty of care for tenants. Other than the stautory requirements not to gas or electrocute tenants, abide by the various bits of the housing act etc what is it agents aren’t doing.

     

     

    Knowing what it is the 52% of tenants are expecting is probaly a good head start on a better relationship between the two parties.

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    1. Glenn Nickols

      Hi Robert,

       

      The actual survey we used is here https://www.getfeedback.com/s/X4pA00IJ

      We agree 100% about resetting the expectations of the renting community so that they are realistic. The issues around expectations and trust within the tenant/agent/landlord relationships are very complex; but worthy of conversation. Perhaps I’ll add a blog on our site soon capturing my thinking. In general we are looking for the middle ground where good agents represent good landlords and have good tenants. Our intention with our approved scheme is to help this happen.

      With complete sincerity our goal is to help people have a better renting experience; but we approach this as tenants for tenants (Yes I rent). Our approach is very different to Shelter or Generation Rent but we do consider those groups as friends not enemies though I do know why many in the letting industry feel differently.
      One of the themes at the heart of what we want to achieve over the coming years is tenant education services to help create “rent ready” tenants. Realistic expectations + a good understanding of responsibilities as well as rights. Part of this will be working with our approved letting agents to create resources.
      We have a new TV show coming to the new property channel on Sky in June and this will very much be a tenant education resource as well as hosting renting lifestyle content (how to avoid that pesky condensation and mould etc : ).
      I fully expect healthy cynicism and scrutiny from the lettings industry, especially as part of our monetisation strategy is to give agents the option to pay for advanced marketing packages, however we just ask you to keep an eye on us as we continue to grow.  Working together is the way forward. J
      I’ll leave you with a quote from our press release  http://www.thetenantsvoice.co.uk/your_home/tenants-promote-great-letting-agents/
       
      We view these types of agents as far superior to online services that only want to compete on price for landlord business, and place the tenants needs low in their priorities. A happy tenant typically means full occupancy and happy landlords. The high street agent still has a major role to play, and we want those committed to looking after tenants to prosper.
       

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      1. Robert May

        Thank you for the reply Glenn but I am specifically asking about the duty of care bit.

        Other than  tenancy fees the tenant  does  not (for want of a better expression) buy any duty of care. The landlord buys the services of an agent to look after them but no tenant I know has ever  spent a penny on their own  representation.

        The properties, landlords and agent have legal obligations which are clearly set out to  comply with so I am trying to establish what it is the majority of tenants think Agent’s aren’t doing?

         

        Is for example an agent suggesting the tenant changes  a lightbulb considered a breach of the duty of care or does it take something more serious than that?

        This  DOC matter was obviously a big motivator but it all seems a little unclear. The agent has to  and has to be seen to look after their client so I really do wonder how tenants expect Agents to be committed to their welfare when it is the landlord paying the agent to look after theirs.

        I am genuinely not being obtuse but can see that the basic premise of Agency is not fully understood.

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        1. Glenn Nickols

          gotcha – have a read, and please feel free to feedback, on our code of conduct that we ask agents to agree to become apprved. http://www.thetenantsvoice.co.uk/the-tenants-voice-letting-agent-code-of-conduct/

          You can always get me here:  glenn@thetenantsvoice.co.uk

          Duty of care. An agent must always work in the best interests of the client, that is to say the person who is paying for the letting agency services (usually the landlord). But the agent must also always treat fairly, and with courtesy, all those involved in the proposed renting or letting. 

          tenants often feel they are not treated fairly by the agents or with courtesy…..we have put this at the heart of our code of conduct.

          I had this experience with foxtons but have had the opposite with my current agency (the brilliant Williamson and Dace http://www.williamsonsproperty.co.uk/)

          It was this major difference in my experiences that inspired our approach.

          right, now I really am off to lunch! 🙂

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  7. MF

    Am I right in thinking that the majority of tenants registered with the Voice are ones that are having/ have had problems with their landlord or agent and went looking for somewhere to support them?

    If I am, it therefore follows that a huge chunk of the tenant market (the ones that are happy) is not represented on, or by, Tenant Voice.  And, that the statistics quoted only relate to unhappy tenants who are registered with Tenant Voice, rather than the whole of the tenant market.

    And of the total number of tenants that are not happy, what proportion of those do actually have a good landlord and/or agent (because you can’t please all of the people all of the time)?

    I previously took an interest in Tenant Voice (when it first started out) but when they eventually demanded that I sign up to their code of practice, I think along with an invitation to start spending money with them, I quickly lost interest. It reminded me all too much of the allagents review site tactics of doing business.

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  8. Glenn Nickols

    MF, I do see the comparisons with the allagents approach.  That’s a fair call, and one that doesn’t bring me a lot of joy. We do need to self-fund though and this is one stream (though approved status is free and the marketing packages are 100% optional). Our TV show and new sponsors coming on board will add to our streams very soon making the site more balanced in general.

    I also agree with your assessment about those most likely to have taken the survey were those who had found us through issues. However statistically 1100 survey respondents will represent a significantly accurate view of the renting community as whole.

    It’s not just companies though, we do get large amounts of visitors organically via the agent search features and like I replied above, for now if it’s not for you just keep an eye on us as we move forward and fulfil our potential.

     
    Glenn

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  9. Glenn Nickols

    I meant “complainers” not “companies” in the above. (right, off to lunch! )

    I hope everyone enjoys their weekends.

    Glenn

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  10. Gump

    I just had a flick through their forum section, must of looked at 20-30 tenant questions/issues

    All very well answered by the Admin, not one single Thank You reply!

     

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    1. Robert May

      I had a look too, notice how many  (most) are direct landlord- tenant issues with no agent involvement.

       

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      1. Gump

        lol, yes I did notice, if only they all had an Agent involved then we would fight it for them rather than using a forum to get, at best, generic advice (one tenant referred to us as slimy!) oh the irony

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        1. Robert May

          The best one was the poor sole who  forgot what they were complaing about mid post but posted anyway.

           

          New carpets every two years?- great reply- you could try cleaning them!

          Being a letting agent is a very responsible  job…. ANYTHING  goes wrong and you are responsible!

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  11. Glenn Nickols

    I can’t support this type of tenant mocking. These are people that feel vulnerable and are looking for support and ultimately, via your landlord clients, financially support your industry.

    I can, however, agree 100% that the right agent can help. Thats why we support good high street agents rather than advising tenants to use online agents or go landlord direct.

    Glenn

     

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  12. MF

    Thank you for your input here, Glenn.  It is appreciated.

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