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safeagent view: Three key tests for PRS policy success in 2023

9th January 2023

2022 was a stop-start year for politics. As we enter a period of potential stability, hopefully we can get back to focusing on policymaking and outcomes.

In the private rented sector, we know change is coming. DLUHC has confirmed the Renters Reform Bill will be brought forward in 2023, and it was welcome to see Michael Gove reinforce his previous commitment to drive up rental standards.

But what shape will reform take? What shape should it take? For me, success can be measured against three key things that we should all be looking out for this year.

1. Consistency

As landmark legislation takes shape, we need to see consistency across policymaking and in different parts of the housing market.

Take the new Decent Homes Standard planned for the PRS. In principle, this is a positive move that should make housing better. But the current proposals don’t account for some recent updates to building safety legislation and also suggest stricter enforcement measures than in social housing. This disparity needs to be addressed or we risk creating a two tier system of housing standards and confusion for tenants.

Meanwhile a new property portal is set to make the existing rogue landlord and letting agent database public, helping renters choose from the vast majority who do their job properly. This database needs to paint a complete picture. Currently, not belonging to an approved CMP scheme isn’t listed as an offence. This has been a legal obligation for agents since 2019 and is a vital layer of protection for consumers.

If new regulations don’t align with existing legal frameworks, how can we expect agents and landlords to know their responsibilities, and tenants their rights?

That’s just the PRS – there is also a need for cohesion across the wider sector. From leasehold reform to the Social Housing Regulation Bill, other areas of the residential market may be legislated on next year too.

It’s vital that policymaking is approached holistically, so that standards are consistent and people can be confident of living in a good home regardless of whether they are renting or homeowners. A consumer-focused approach will go a long way and help us all remain focused on what really matters.

2. Collaboration

Successful reform will see everyone buy into it; conversely, it will fail if landlords, tenants, agents and councils keep pulling in different directions. Without a clear consensus, I fear that efforts to improve standards could end up being counter-productive.

The Renting Home (Wales) Act is a live example. While already law, its true implications will become clearer in 2023. Landlords’ compliance responsibilities have changed overnight, with many new processes to adopt. It’s vital that these changes don’t push landlords away from the sector, so clear direction is needed from government and regulators.

Our sector also has a big role to play in interpreting and applying new laws. That’s why we’ve already made sure our lettings qualifications and CPD content for agents operating in Wales incorporates the legislative changes.

Policymakers in Westminster will be watching closely to see how Wales’ new model works in practice, in particular when it comes to security of tenure for tenants. Measures such as the removal of Section 21 evictions will need to be balanced with some flexibility for landlords. Otherwise, we risk a major exodus of small independent landlords from the market which isn’t going to help anyone.

Collaboration will allow us to find the right balance between different interests, shape deliverable policy and mean we can all contribute to something we’re confident in.

3. Communication

When times are tough, simple solutions and polemics can be appealing – but we need to resist the temptation to become tribal.  This is especially important with the cost of living crisis being the backdrop to all policy and politics in 2023.

Landlords are already under pressure amid legislative changes and everyone is feeling the financial pinch, so we must adopt the empathy and collective spirit on show during the pandemic. Honesty and transparency will help us plan for and mitigate economic hardship.

Take the drive in energy efficiency standards – already a major focus in the PRS and even more so in the current energy crisis. It’s good to see government funding starting to filter through for local authorities to help drive awareness of this. We need to keep talking and making sure tenants and landlords know what help is available and how their actions can help drive improvements too. Agents are playing a key part in encouraging that.

Now we have greater clarity on legislative plans, this is the year for the whole sector to come to the table and shape how it will work in practice. Let’s be grown up, pragmatic and positive.

My three tests – consistency, collaboration and communication – aren’t just for policymakers, they’re for all of us to focus on if we’re going to steer a sensible direction of travel in 2023.

By Isobel Thomson, safeagent’s chief executive, for Property Industry Eye.

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