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Housing Minister braves the crowds at ARLA Conference

Friday 27 April 2018

ARLA conference 2018 took place on 17 April at the ExCel London. It was a veritable mix of class leading keynote speakers, industry information, networking opportunities and a chance to meet product and service providers.

Among the cannons and confetti of this year's conference, Housing Minister Heather Wheeler braved the crowd of letting agents, announcing that landlords will always be better protected if they use a professional agency, such as ARLA Propertymark Protected agencies and saying that she was impressed by the insight and determination of the sector.

She said Government are exploring the option of establishing a single housing ombudsman and agreed with our stance on introducing an independent regulator, who should be responsible for investigating letting agents, estate agents and managing agents and imposing sanctions. 

Wheeler said that supporting the professional end of the sector should go hand in hand with ensuring that there is adequate supply of good quality and safe accommodation at the lower end of the sector, giving examples of how Government is achieving this:

  • The Government are supporting Karen Bucks’ Private Member’s Bill (housing fit for human habitation)
  • Will introduce mandatory electrical checks
  • Proposing a lead enforcement authority
  • Regulation to protect tenants from abuse and bad practice (Government has consulted on this).

She said that CMP regulation will come into force 'very soon' and that Government will also publish a How to Let guide. 

We're delighted that the indications are that Government seems to be listening to ARLA Propertymark on some of the major issues our industry faces. The minister actually referred to evidence given by ARLA Propertymark Chief Executive David Cox at recent CLG Select Committee hearings on the PRS and Tenant Fees ban. Government will now take time to consider all the evidence.   

On the horizon would be a review of Selective Licensing, something which we have been fighting for, as it's clear that the schemes simply don't work - something David Cox has made extremely clear at evidence recently given to the Select Committee. 

The conference team used Sli.do again this year as an quick and easy way for the audience to put questions to the Minister to great effect, with a good mix of questions asked, which challenged the Minister on a number of counts. Here is a flavour of the Q & A session:

Banning Orders and rogues database
More than one person asked the Minister if the Government had plans to regulate landlords who don't use an agent, to which she replied that they are considering all options, but emphasised the role that professional bodies can play, and that landlords should look at using professional lettings agents, but acknowledged that heavier fines are needed. 

To rapturous applause, one delegate quipped 'How about the Government introducing a database of bad tenants?", in reference to the rogue database of agents and landlords. implying that the balance had gone too far in the tenant's favour. 

Another delegate asked a question that's been on everyone's lips - "Why are Banning Orders and Database of Rogue Landlords and Letting Agents not public?". Wheeler said: "To amend the law this would need primary legislation – the Government will review it after 12 months".

Longer tenancies
There have been calls from many industry bodies, thinktanks and consumer groups recently about increasing the length of standard tenancies for the burgeoning private rented sector which is taking the burden of much of the UK's housing needs. It's argued that doing so would bring security of tenure to renters, who more and more are also families. 

Wheeler said that the Government is not insisting on them, but that Government will give landlords the ‘tools’ to do it – such as standard forms.

Another delegate demanded that if longer term tenancies are to become the norm, mortgage providers need to be made to remove mortgage requirement of 12 months tenancies, to which the Minister stated that they had had a conversation with Finance UK about it, and they are receptive. 

Electrical checks
The Hackett Review, which is looking at aftermath of Grenfell will respond in the Summer – the Minister is confident that legislation will follow.

The unregulated short-term market
There is a booming market in AirBnB, and other similar services, which is completely unregulated. Even with the 90-day maximum rental period policed by the provider themselves, it's easy for AirBnB landlords to get around these.

When asked what is being done about this, Wheeler said that it is a Central Government issue rather than for local authorities to deal with, but crucially admitted the Government doesn’t know what to do as it is throwing up unexpected consequences.

Elsewhere on the day - delegates do the talking!
It was a jam packed day, with a good mix of speakers. Rather than us telling you about it, we thought we'd let the feedback from delegates who attended the conference do the talking: 

"Justin King's speech on how we treat our customers was a real eye opener. whilst we work for the client, without the customer we cannot serve the client, and we feel that maybe the industry as a whole needs to consider this more, and Justin king really helped us see this"

"Justin King was brilliant. He was challenging, thought provoking and engaging. It is perfect to have a speaker that doesn't just reinforce the things everyone hears all the time"

"This was my first visit to an ARLA conference and the level of professionalism and organisation was tremendous. I felt that the Chief Executive's presentation was extremely valuable - the overview of the industry was invaluable for all agents present and he made some extremely valid - political points."

"Brilliant Conference.....Well Done! The key note speakers were excellent and very engaging. The facilities were spot on and we all walked away determined to keep improving the Industry for the better."

Keep an eye out for photos from the day and a roundup in Property Professional magazine, out next month.