Now let’s leave the regulators regulate and work for the public. If you don’t know what I mean, you haven’t been paying attention.
For in recent weeks we have had a glut of stories about agents - usually small ones or online ones - who have suddenly discovered the publicity they can get from lodging a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority or the Competitions and Markets Authority.
Call me cynical, but in the past month alone we’ve seen three ‘on the record’ occasions of agents complaining to a regulator and making sure the press know as well.
For journalists, of course, this is good - it’s certainly made my life easier to have a bit of argy-bargy set out in a press release - but is it helpful to the industry as a whole?
Firstly there was Haverhill agency CXG which lodged a complaint to the ASA about online agency EweMove, copying in local newspapers at the same time: EweMove then slapped it all online for good measure.
Secondly we had Hatched online agency complaining to the ASA about other online agents displaying - or not - the VAT they attach to their fees. That too was a complaint which was accompanied by a press release.
Then eMoov was complaining to the CMA about traditional estate agents’ sole agency agreeements. That complaint, too, was accompanied by a press release.
These are not the only examples. I know ‘off the record’ of three other small high street agents who have, or are about to, submit complaints to the ASA or the CMA about other agents in the near future.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not judging the merits or otherwise of the arguments put forward by the agents doing the complaining.
And I am not complaining that the agents have been savvy enough to let journalists know.
But I just wonder whether some of the complainants really want the publicity surrounding their gripes - justified or unjustified as they may be - rather than seriously expecting a regulator to sort out problems. I wonder, too, whether a press release raising the problem might be a simpler way of achieving the same thing, rather than involving a regulator.
For example, aren’t some of the problems raised in these complaints effectively covered by current or imminent consumer rights legislation? Shouldn’t some of these disputes be dealt with by the NAEA or other industry bodies anyway?
There used to be a time when the involvement of the ASA or CMA was of itself a ‘big’ issue which made people sit up and take notice.
But now are we not in a position where, if you get a string of such complaints in just one week, we risk defusing the genuine importance of one of these regulators being involved in a more significant complaint?
And should the time of a regulator be spent on what some might consider to be vanity complaints instead of more genuine ones from the public or addressing wider issues?
I’ll leave those questions with you. I’m afraid I have to go now, and write another story about a complaint to a regulator…
This blog first appeared on the Industry Views section of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today
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