Delivering contradictions and confusion

Nigel Lewis compares words with policies of the Truss government and wonders if they know whose side they’re on.

Liz Truss government image


While attending a recent industry gathering to raise money for good causes in North London, it was evident from the pre-auction chat that some agents are getting weary of the government’s rhetoric on red tape. It is understandable. Listening to Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng get excited during his Mini Budget speech in the Commons last month, his real fervour lay in the Government “getting out the way to get Britain building”.

His comments were the latest repetition of a popular theme within the Government and Conservative party circles; that if only pesky bureaucrats would stand aside and let business people make more money, Britain would be great again.

During the Brexit campaign Boris and his Eurosceptic pals borrowed from this vault of thinking, arguing that only if European mandarins could have their red biros removed from our law making, Britain would also be great again too.

The claim by Truss and her Chancellor that red tape is thrown up to frustrate business is deceitful, because both know it is not true.

I am not scoring party political points here. But instead reflecting on the frustration among many within the property industry that, while Kwarteng and his cabinet colleagues bang on about red tape scythes, estate agency is ever more bound up in it.

Increasing regulation

Only a few decades ago most agents only had to worry about the Estate Agents Act 1979 and codes of conduct operated by the sector’s various but ‘light touch’ trade bodies. But since the mid noughties, when a public outcry over landlords and agents unfairly keeping tenants’ deposit led to the Housing Act 2004, a steady stream of regulation and oversight, some specific to estate agency and some not, has engulfed the 19,000-odd branches around the nation.

To note a few of these policies, there have been anti-money laundering, redress scheme membership, client money protection, the Tenant Fees Act, the mooted (but some say ‘barely there’) Regulation of Property Agents proposals, the looming Renters’ Reform Bill, Consumer Protection Regulations, Gas Safety, Right to Rent, EPC rules, the new Fire Safety Bill requirements – I could go on.

But the point being made by the industry’s great and good at my charity bash was that many of them are confused by the opposing arguments coming out of Government departments.

On the one hand it is obvious, and has been clear for some time now, that regulations are always necessary especially in an industry like estate agency where there are few if any barriers to entry. And yet it is that exact same ‘red tape’ that Kwarteng, Truss and our new Housing Secretary Simon Clarke are so keen to cut back.

You do not have to be a political commentator to see that the two positions are untenable.

But it’s a conundrum that many previous governments of all political hues have to adopt in order to survive on the hustings – say one thing to industries like estate agency while saying something completely different to the wider general public via the media.

Truss sympathy

Liz Truss was at it again last month just before the Mini-Budget, telling landlords via her chat with NRLA chief Ben Beadle that she was “sympathetic” to the problems that buy-to-let investors face and that she would consider enabling them once again to claim mortgage interest fully against their tax bills.

But the Mini Budget was utterly bereft of any good news for letting agents or their landlords clients. The claim by Truss and her Chancellor that red tape is thrown up to frustrate businesses is therefore, in my opinion, deceitful because both know the claim is not true.

In our industry, regulations have been created to protect home buyers, purchasers, landlords and tenants from rogue operators and the estate agency world is much better for it, as everyone agreed as they waited to open their wallets for charity.

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