In 2018, the Minister of Housing and Homelessness, Heather Wheeler, announced that a Regulation of Property Agents (RoPA) would be put in place. Almost one year later, an official report was released - outlining all the new legislations property agents can expect in the up-and-coming years. To help you understand how you and your firm will be affected, we’ve created this guide, to give you all the key information you need to know…
What Is the New Regulation of Property Agents (RoPA)?
Soon, all residential property businesses will be legally required to hold a licence to practise from the new regulator. Each firm will have to be assessed by an independent regulator, who will check that every customer-facing agent adheres to a Code of Practice and holds mandatory qualifications. While these rules will drastically change the industry, they’re not as daunting as they seem. After all, the intention of RoPA is to filter out any bad practice within the sector.
So, if your firm already trades ethically and honestly, it’s likely that you won’t notice a huge difference. You’ll just need to ensure that all staff have taken the correct exams and that you’ve set funding aside to appoint a regulator (but we’ll explain that later).
What Is the Purpose of the New Regulation of Property Agents?
A range of public surveys have found that in the past few years, many tenants and leaseholders have been unhappy with the service they’ve received from property agents. Trust within the industry is extremely low and, according to surveys, many landlords and residents are unable to assess whether an agent is acting lawfully.
Not only is this lack of trust difficult for clients, it’s also an issue for agents, who are unable to reassure clients and prove their proficiency. That’s why RoPA has been put in place – its aim is to ensure that agents deliver honest, open services to their customers.
What Qualifications Will Agents Need Under the New Regulation?
When the new regulations are in place, it will become mandatory for all agents to hold Ofqual Regulated Qualifications. For any customer-facing staff, the minimum certification that’s required is Level 3, while any company directors or managing agents must hold a minimum of Level 4 and pass a fit and proper person test. These compulsory qualifications will not only ensure that agents are equipped with sufficient skills, they’ll be able to reassure clients by acting as a badge of expertise.
Furthermore, qualifications will prevent any inept personnel from entering the sector. Currently, people are able to join the industry for the wrong reasons – they may not care about the work, or they may be looking for a short-term placement – but compulsory certifications can stop this from happening.
But what about agents who have a lifetime of experience? Are they required to take these assessments too? The short answer is yes. According to the working group who devised the report, every employee should be treated equally, which is why the working group are not willing to substitute qualifications for experience. They do, however, provide a bit of reassurance by explaining that experienced employees are likely to find the examination easy. So, although the qualifications may be a bit of a nuisance, it’s unlikely that knowledgeable agents will be at risk of job-loss.
What Will the RoPA Code of Practice Entail?
The new RoPa code of practice provides a set of 14 overarching principles for agents to adhere to.
According to the report, its purpose is to drive consistency, compliance, transparency and professionalism. It will act as a set of ‘aspirational goals’, guiding agents to deliver the best possible service. As well as providing consumers with a clear statement of standards with which to hold property agents accountable.
The code states that all property agents must:
For most agents, these rules will feel like common sense – so it’s unlikely that complying will cause too many problems. But, if a customer is unhappy with the service they receive, they’ll be able to consult the code to assess whether any rules are being flouted.
You may find this new code similar to current legislation such as Trading Standards and redress schemes. Although the regulator will be sharing information and working closely with these bodies, plans will be put in place to ensure that each role is distinguishable. It’s suggested that the new Code of Practice will act as a basis of judgement for redress schemes.
What Will Happen If I Don’t Adhere to the RoPA?
Failure to follow the regulations could result in a range of consequences, from remedial actions and warnings, to licence revocations and prosecutions for unlicensed practice. Not only will your penalty be dependent on the seriousness of the transgression, the regulator will also take into account how often mistakes occur within your firm. It’s important to tread carefully, especially as the regulator is able to consider complaints from a multitude of sources - from residents, to solicitors, and even competing agencies.
But the purpose of the new regulator isn’t to punish transgressions, it’s to prevent them from happening in the first place. Currently redress schemes fix problems after the damage has been done, but the new regulator will be able to stop these incidents from happening at all. Moreover, the regulator will always consider your firm’s previous behaviour and take into account any issues surrounding the breach – if you’re a moral agent with no history of transgression, chances are the regulator will be lenient when assessing a one-off mistake.
Who Will Fund the New RoPA Regulator?
This is one of the biggest frustrations when it comes to the new regulation, because firms are required to fund the regulator themselves. It is, however, recognised that a significant amount of funding will be required during the operation’s early years, which is why the government will provide ‘seed corn’ funding to help implement the new regulations. Luckily, the policies will be introduced gradually, so agents will have enough time to prepare and adapt to the new requirements.
Keeping on Top of the Property Industry’s Regulatory Requirements
As well as checking the qualifications of your firm’s customer-facing agents, don’t forget to thoroughly check the accreditations of any external staff you hire, such as construction workers, designers, manufacturers or contractors. To properly adhere to the new Code of Practice, relevant legislation must be applied throughout the whole company, from minor maintenance jobs through to major structural repairs. It’s important to remember that your suppliers’ work is reflective of your firm, so make sure their services are trustworthy, efficient and compliant. With industry rules tightening, it’s more important than ever to check accreditations, expiry dates and insurance policies - as no breach will go unnoticed.
Credensa, our supplier onboarding and accreditation platform, can make compliance easier. By providing a cloud-based network of trusted suppliers who have relevant, up-to-date accreditations, we’re able to help agents find services that are in line with legislation. To find out more about Credensa, visit our agents’ page now.