Consultation Isn't A Substitute For Action

Another week, another consultation - the agency industry can’t complain about not being asked for its views in recent years.

The latest was the suggestion for the increased regulation of property management, suggested by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid on Wednesday.

Letting Agent Today got there first in terms of trade press coverage (please pardon the boast) but within a few moments of the newsflash hitting readers’ inboxes, I had two emails asking how this consultation differed from one announced a week earlier by the Select Committee for the Department of Communities and Local Government.

At first glance they appear broadly similar, although the select committee (which is all-party and independent) is focused more on landlords, while the government (which is... well, the government) is focussed on agents and managers and leaseholders.

That’s not the half of it, of course.

There is also the DCLG consultation ‘Tackling Unfair Practices In The Leasehold Market’ announced in July this year - that’s the one looking at proposals likely to end up with a ban on new-build leasehold houses following scandals earlier this year.

Then there’s consultation into the much-publicised ban on letting agents’ fees (‘Banning Letting Agent Fees Paid By Tenants’) which closed way back in the first week of June but has yet to result in solid proposals. When Chancellor Phillip Hammond first announced the measure last November, he promised a ban would start “in the new year” - although, to be fair, he didn’t specify which new year.

By contrast we have seen some results - but only some - following another DCLG consultation. This was the ‘Proposed Banning Order Offences Under The Housing and Planning Act 2016’) consultation which ended in February this year. We’ve seen stiffer fines and some element of banning introduced recently, but those actually came as a result of an earlier DCLG consultation process called ‘Tackling Rogue Landlords and Improving the Private Rental Sector’, which happened back in 2015.

Confusing isn’t it? Yet the list of consultations goes on.

Did you comment on the “Planning and Affordable Housing for Build to Rent’ which closed in August? Or last year’s ‘Extending Mandatory Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation and Related Reforms’? How about the ‘Planning For The Right Homes In The Right Places’ consultation exercise? Or that ‘Fixing Our Broken Housing Market’ consultation in February this year?

This is by no means an exhaustive list, as devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have a raft of different consultations going on too, many mirroring those emanating from the DCLG and applying mostly to England. And there are dozens (yes, literally dozens) of consultation exercises on non-agency aspects of the property sector, from construction methods to park homes, from rural planning to starter homes.

My point in this chronicle of consultation is not to knock it in principle: after all, we would all shout loudly if we were not asked for our views. But it is to point out that consultation is not an end in itself - it’s not a substitute for action, as increasingly seems the case.

We are currently 48 weeks on from the first declaration that letting agents’ fees on tenants would be banned in England: as of now, there’s still no sign of the legislation, creating uncertainty in our industry and probably growing disillusion from those who want a ban.

Perhaps it’s a government that’s effectively crippled because of resources funneled into Brexit, making consultation noises to keep some people happy while having little chance of actually finding the civil servants or the parliamentary time to turn these into laws.

Whether that’s true or not, we’re just a few weeks away from another Budget where - I predict with some certainty - there will be plenty of measures announced about property.

If the measures are about tax, any changes could be (literally) overnight - government has the power to do that; if the changes are about anything else, it’s likely to be slower.

And - you’ve guessed it - by slower, I mean after more consultation. Whether any measure announced next month actually sees the light of day, however, is another matter.

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