Property is an industry that is constantly watching the clock run down to new rules and regulation. While the scrapping of Section 21s and tenancy-wide MEES in lettings are the last grains of sand in the current hourglass timer, another monumental change is on the horizon, this time in the shape of a mandatory qualification for all consumer-facing property professionals.
The recommendations of the parliamentary Regulation of Property Agents Working Group (RoPA) may feel far off but agents shouldn’t be fooled into thinking three years is a long time, especially with the gravity of what is required. Here’s what we know so far, alongside the answers to the most commonly asked RoPA questions.
Is this a mandatory qualification set in stone?
The political landscape is changing on an almost daily basis and that may have an impact on the adoption of a mandatory qualification. For instance, the Housing Minister who set up the working group for RoPA (Heather Wheeler MP) has recently been replaced by Robert Jenrick MP.
In a similar vein, whoever is in power at the time of going to press may not be the person in charge when you’re reading this, so there’s a healthy degree of speculation and assumption around the issue.
Isobel Thomson, Chief Executive at safeagent, says at this stage it’s impossible to know whether the mandatory qualification will come to fruition, “Since RoPA came out, there has been no response to the report from the Government, and we’ve seen a new Prime Minister and cabinet since the announcement.
Whether ministers will choose to take up the recommendations is not yet known. No one in the industry can say with certainty what level of qualification will be required or when that will be.”
Since RoPA came out, there has been no response to the report from the Government, and we’ve seen a new Prime Minister and cabinet since the announcement. Isobel Thomson, Chief Executive, safeagen.
Should I be alarmed?
The message from The Guild of Property Professionals is “Don’t panic!” “The recommendations within the RoPA report are all we have, so the message is one of awareness and to carry on as normal until the Government announces what they plan to do next,” says Paul Offley, the Guild’s Compliance Officer. “I think the important issue is that nothing is going to happen overnight.” Paul points out that even if the RoPA regulations are adopted, a regulator and its team have to be appointed, a syllabus for mandatory qualifications set and a code of practice agreed.
“We do not know what the syllabus will be or who the appointed training providers are, so the report is only the start of the journey. When the training qualifications are agreed, there is likely to be a reasonable amount of time for all business owners and employees to attain the required qualification level. Plus, there will also be clear guidance on any ‘gaps’ between an existing qualification and any new mandatory qualification.”
Is there anything we can do now to prepare?
Industry bodies are unanimous in their advice that agents can start preparing now for impending changes, despite the lack of clarity, “We still have no indication of when any mandatory deadline will be but that doesn’t mean agents shouldn’t be thinking about training,” adds Isobel.
“The professional development of staff within agencies is a must – there should be money spent on training, regardless of what happens as a result of the RoPA recommendations,” she continues. “Training is the greatest investment an agent can make in its staff, and it may give you a head start if and when a mandatory qualification is introduced.”
It’s a sentiment that industry trainer Charlotte Jeffrey-Campbell shares, “Agents have a fantastic opportunity to prepare now and enjoy all the other positive outcomes that great training brings. Training can give staff confidence in their legal knowledge – not just by being compliant but by becoming an industry expert, enabling them to give sound professional advice. Confidence means problems can be averted, customers retained and more business achieved through personal referrals.”
How can I obtain a qualification or more training now?
There is no shortage of courses and accreditations that can be taken now to prepare for RoPA, with Charlotte’s organisation – The Able Agent® – offering an online training solution with accompanying Level 3 qualification. The Guild of Property Professionals also has a number of courses accredited by Trading Standards, as well as seminars, webinars and training sessions run by some of the industry’s leading experts.
One of the widest choices of qualifications and training is offered by safeagent. Agents can choose from NCFE-accredited lettings foundation courses; a Level 3 award in Letting & Property Management (England) and ABBE Level 2 and 3 Certificates in Property: Residential Property Letting and Management (CertRPLM) – all offered alongside continuing professional development and mini online courses.
Current European funding is quickly spent, accessing other sources of finance is dependant on the qualification, the provider, the age of the learner and also where the learner is situated. Susie Crolla, GLM.
Letting agents and property managers can also prepare by taking a BTEC Level 2 or 3 (yielding a certificate in Residential Lettings and Property Management) or Level 4 (which results in a diploma in Residential Lettings and Property Management) with The Guild of Letting and Management. “We offer all three levels as either in-house or distance learning courses, as well as a BTEC Level 3 in Law & Legal Work,” says Susie Crolla, the CEO at the lettings-focused organisation.
What if I already hold a qualification?
Paul from The Guild of Property Professionals touched on the area of existing qualifications and many agents will have already gained a specific property qualification or have undergone intensive training run by an industry body. It’s unclear what may be taken into account if a mandatory qualification is introduced – whether any aspects can be ported over or modules ticked off thanks to past activity.
We advise agents to get ahead of the competition – and to stand out – by adopting the new requirements early and achieving an OFQUAL regulated Level 3 qualification. Mark Hayward, Propertymark.
Propertymark is probably the most recognised organisation already offering Level 3 and Level 4 qualifications, and is best placed to comment on RoPA, seeing as it was part of the working group. It is confident that agents already in possession of an established, OFQUAL regulated qualification will have a significant advantage. “Many agents already hold a qualification at Level 3 or a higher level than the proposals. The regulator will set the syllabus that accepted qualifications will need to meet,” says Mark Hayward, Chief Executive at NAEA Propertymark.
“Until the regulator sets the syllabus, no qualification can be marketed as fully compliant, however the working group recommend that where an individual holds an existing regulated qualification below the specified level, they be allowed to make up any difference between that and the required standard. Although we anticipate that the need for property qualifications will be phased in, we advise agents to get ahead of the competition – and to stand out – by adopting the new requirements early and achieving an OFQUAL regulated Level 3 qualification.”
How much will a mandatory qualification cost?
While many of the property industry’s new legislations take time to implement, a mandatory qualification will also cost money – an extra expense that agents will have to shoulder and one that may make letting agents, especially, wince.
Susie highlights how the cost of getting staff qualified will directly follow the financial loss felt as a result of the Tenant Fees Act. “On average, a Level 4 qualification, given that it is the equivalent of the first year of a degree, would be quite costly. The Level 3 qualification ranges from approximately £300 to £1,000 and
Agents have an opportunity to prepare now and enjoy all the positive outcomes that training brings – confidence in legal knowledge – enabling them to give professional advice. Charlotte Jeffrey-Campbell The Able Agent
The recommendations in the RoPA report are all we have, the message is one of awareness and to carry on as normal until the Government announces what they plan to do next. Paul Offley Guild of Property Professionals this may exclude examination costs, dependent on the provider.”
It only takes basic maths to work out guide costs but Susie points out that many agents work in sales, lettings and property management and here’s where extra clarity will be needed, “If staff cross over in these three disciplines, do they need to be qualified in one, two or three areas? And how does that impact directors who oversee both lettings and residential sales?”
It’s also unclear if there will be any financial help for agents who may struggle to fund the qualifications, “European Funding, currently available for many different reasons, is being quickly absorbed and spent. In terms of other sources of finance, this would usually depend on the provider, the qualification, the age of the learner and also the location the learner is situated in,” adds Susie.
How can I free up time for training?
Not only do agents need to consider the cost of the training and the exam itself, businesses need to take into account the time staff need to commit to becoming qualified. Gaining a qualification raises all sorts of issues. Should agents be able to study on the job or will they be expected to do this in their own time? Will time off be given in lieu? What happens if team members simply refuse to qualify?
Tom Reiss, the CEO and Co-Founder at Roby.ai, says agents can prepare now to accommodate necessary study time. “It is worth looking into business practices and processes that are being carried out now as a starting point, and well before a new mandatory qualification is suddenly upon us. If planned for properly, time away from the desk can feel non-existent.”
It is worth looking into business practices and processes that are being carried out now as a starting point – and well before a new mandatory qualification is suddenly upon us. Tom Reiss, Roby.ai
Managing day-to-day agency tasks and factoring in study leave is something Tom acknowledges: “We’re at a point in property when agents’ time is so precious and is only going to be filled with more admin and paperwork. Our solution is to release agents of all the paper-heavy and menial tasks with streamlining and artificial intelligence.”
Tom’s Roby CRM system is part of a new resourcing culture that frees agents to focus on higher value problem solving – in this case, undergoing valuable training and gaining qualifications. “Roby removes the complexities of an agent’s day-to-day job by performing many of the time-consuming manual tasks that humans are unable to perform at the speed and scale required for efficient, effective consumer interactions. This means agents can spend more time building their business.”