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National Approved Letting Scheme

publication date: Apr 6, 2009
author/source: Caroline Pickering
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nalsThe enormous popularity of buy-to-let properties over the last ten years has been key to the growth of private rentals. More recent developments, such as the Rugg Review, have highlighted the need for tighter regulation and accountability among lettings and management agents. With accreditation offering the most straightforward route to regulation, the work of the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS) is central to providing a much needed kitemark to give consumers confidence when choosing an agent.

NALS was established ten years ago by The Empty Homes Agency together with The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA), the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), as an accreditation scheme for lettings and management agents in the private rented sector – and a single kitemark for consumer recognition.

In the wake of a house-buying slump and concerns over landlords defaulting on mortgage payments, consumers are looking for even greater reassurance about agents. NALS Independent Chair, Caroline Pickering, places great emphasis on building kitemark credibility and with so much uncertainty about just how long recession will last, she is adamant that sector-wide standardisation is now more critical than ever before.

“Before the downturn, it became too easy to see the lettings business solely as financial opportunity,” says Caroline. “Accreditation is crucial – even more so since the recommendations contained within last year’s Rugg Review.”

Since the report’s findings were announced last October, and following on from its call for greater standardisation in the private rented sector, NALS is holding two more industry consultative forums over the next few months engaging representatives across the industry and consumer bodies to look at licensing for letting agents and to offer a framework.

“It is clear that the Government had great foresight when it funded and supported NALS,” asserts Caroline. “NALS is the clear choice to carry out independent agent regulation, at low cost to both government and to agents signing up. NALS Consultative Forums are designed to help shape the future of private rentals licensing and regulation, ultimately aiming to establish strong, germane industry policy that reflects consumer needs across the sector, which we can ultimately present to government to consider.”

The first NALS Consultative Forum was held on 26th March, with a follow up meeting scheduled for June. Lord Richard Best, has already agreed to be Chair.

“In addition to these activities, we continue working alongside other industry groups to raise standards further,” Caroline explains. “Raising consumer awareness is vital.” Wider appreciation of the inherent issues is of enormous importance to those considering using the services of lettings agents. This is highlighted by the TDS announcement that it will only offer deposit protection services to lettings and management firms that are members of only four approved professional bodies, including NALS. Caroline Pickering sees this as further evidence of the way in which non-affiliated agents, who remain outside a regulatory framework such as offered by NALS are being marginalised.

“Lettings agencies need to guarantee optimum levels of trust and support for both tenants and landlords and this move is a wake-up call to all involved in the industry about the significance of both accountability and financial security within private rentals,” she says.

Despite a growing number of firms becoming NALS accredited, and with awareness at an all time high, Caroline continues to challenge all those agencies involved in lettings to consider why they haven’t signed up. ”Do it now!” she says. “NALS criteria for entry to its scheme is entirely achievable by all professional firms and agents and the organisation continues to assist lettings firms through the speedy and straightforward application process. The NALS kitemark offers peace of mind right across the sector and beyond.”

The National Letting Scheme Board comprises: Caroline Pickering (independent Chair), representatives from Communities and Local Government (CLG), British Property Federation, Sanctuary Shaftesbury Housing, the National Landlords Association, the National Union of Students, the Guild of Letting and Management with a NALS accredited firm representative.