Rogue estate agents held to account

17 November 2006
The consumers, estate agents and redress bill laid out in yesterday's Queen's speech aims at tighter control over estate agents' activities.

Improvements will be made to the current mechanisms for hearing consumer complaints and rewarding compensation, as well as holding agents to account by compelling them to keep comprehensive records.

Also on the agenda is the strengthening of the arm of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) when dealing with agents who fail to comply with a code of practice, by ensuring that rogue agents would "go to the wall", according to estate agents' Ombudsman, Stephen Carr-Smith.

But Steven Gould, director of regulation at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, is concerned that the bill's provisions for independent consumer redress are "insufficient".

He called for "prevention as well as cure", pointing out that addressing consumer complaints with better redress mechanisms was still simply "shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted".

The bill's other provisions include improved rights to cancellation and "cooling-off" after making deals with agents during solicited visits, to make consumers' rights in this area closer to their rights on unsolicited visits.

The provisions emphasise agents' accountability, lighten the burden of responsibility on consumers.

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