What does a good letting agent look like?

Rogues in the housing sector are a regular theme in the current discourse on the housing sector, so much so The National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS) recently published a toolkit designed to help local authorities take action against rogue letting agents, improving standards in the industry and protecting tenants and landlords alike. 

Whilst it only takes a few bad agents to tarnish the reputation of the rest of the industry, good agents can help to increase standards further by following best practice, so they become, well, the industry standard. We’ve pulled together our top tips on what we think makes a good agent great! You can download our infographic here.

What do you think makes a good letting agent?  Why not share your ideas in the comments section below?

No Limits – Helping young people help themselves

Every three months we award up to £20,000 to charities that focus on housing related issues. Since the launch of our charity fund, we’ve given more than £160,000 to charities doing fantastic work in their local communities. 

In the eighth round of awards, No Limits fought off some stiff competition to claim a donation. We were delighted to hand over a cheque for £5,000 and find out a bit more about their operation on our recent visit.

No Limits

No Limits offers free and confidential advice, information counselling and much more to young people and children who live in Southampton and Hampshire. Some of these children suffer from mental or physical ill-health, which makes the work No Limits do even more challenging. 

Their ‘Floating Support’ and ‘Homemaker Volunteers’ initiatives are fantastic ideas which help those who are at risk of homelessness. But their work doesn’t stop there - they also give people the skills to make their house more of a home.

The donation will go towards Homemaker Volunteer courses, designed to give young people the skills to be independent - such as cooking on a budget, cleaning and money management. 

Natalie Hutchins at No Limits, said: “We’re really grateful to The DPS for the money, which will really help us empower young people to truly enjoy their new homes.

“Some of the young people we work with have never had the welcoming, comfortable home that many of us take for granted, and we want these young people to feel like they have a home of which they can be proud.”

Daren King, Head of Tenancy Deposit Protection at The DPS, said: “We’re really glad to be able to support the services provided by No Limits, which represent a really important source of assistance for those who need it in Southampton and the surrounding area.”

Congratulations to No Limits, we look forward to hearing how the donation has helped. 

Calderdale SmartMove – helping homeless and vulnerable people find their feet

Through the DPS Fund, every three months £20,000 is awarded to charities that help those who are affected by housing-related issues. 

In our eighth round of awards, the applications were stronger than ever so every detail was taken into consideration.  We’re really pleased to announce that Calderdale Smartmove was one of the successful charities. 

Here’s a little bit about what they do…

Calderdale Smartmove

Calderdale Smartmove provides a high quality, client-centred service that helps homeless and vulnerable people find accommodation in their local area.  

Chris Leonard, Senior Business Manager at The DPS said: “Calderdale SmartMove plays an important role in the local community by housing those in need and providing support and education to help people access employment…”

The donation will allow Calderdale Smartmove to provide security bonds that will help them secure accommodation for the people that need it most. 

Craig George, at Calderdale Smartmove, said: “For many people, finding long-term accommodation is extremely challenging, and by giving more individuals and families a helping hand, we can make sure more people have somewhere safe and comfortable to live.

“We’re really grateful to The DPS for the funding, and it’s great to work with organisations that share Calderdale Smartmove’s ethos.”

Good luck to Calderdale Smartmove. We hope the donation helps you continue doing great work.  

Bosco House – A warm and inviting home for single homeless men

Did you know that every three months £20,000 is up for grabs? Through the DPS Fund we donate to charities that do amazing work in a range of housing-related issues. 

We recently visited Bosco House, a successful applicant to our eighth round of awards to hand over a ‘big cheque’ (see the picture below). 

Bosco House 

Bosco society is a small charitable organisation which provides 23 bed spaces to single homeless men. Many of whom have a troubled background, such as misuse problems, mental health issues and other offences.  

“Bosco House undertakes fundamentally important work helping young people find housing and teaching them the skills to live on their own” Daren King, our Head of Tenancy Deposit Protection.

The £5,000 award will help with the opening of a new hostel in Sefton that will house 13 homeless young people.

James Heller, a Senior Worker at Bosco House, said: “We are extremely delighted and grateful to The DPS for the funding provided for our new hostel.  

“The funding provided will go a long way towards providing a safe and secure environment for our clients and will contribute to rebuilding lives and combating homelessness in Merseyside.”

 We look forward to catching up with Bosco House soon, to see how the donation has helped.  

 

5 steps to better communication with your student tenants

With the end of term approaching, it won’t be long until students leave their rented accommodation, hopeful that their deposits will be repaid in full.  

Good communication with your students at this time is essential for the end of tenancy to be as smooth as possible.

1)    Get in touch with your students sooner rather than later

Don’t leave anything to the last minute: encourage students to bring up any problems as they arise to avoid surprises further down the line. A quick phone call or visit before they move out can help start a conversation, but remember everything you discuss should always be confirmed in writing.

2)    Make sure they know their deposit and repayment IDs

At the end of the tenancy, your students will need their deposit and repayment IDs to get their money back.

We’ll send these to them at the beginning of the tenancy, as soon as we receive the deposit from you. We also include their ID in the repayment notification your students receive when you start the claim process.

If they have lost their repayment ID, they can request a new one by SMS or email using an online form. The deposit ID is universal, which means you can provide it to them. Alternatively, they can contact our customer service team on 0330 303 0030.

3)    Invite students to the check-out in writing

If possible, all the students should attend the check-out process. It will be easier to discuss the condition of the property and eventual repairs or deposit deduction. Make sure to take notes of any admissions or agreements from the students, and ask them to date and sign the notes.

Check out our infographic for more useful check-out tips.

4)    Managing multiple deposit repayments

With thousands of students around the country moving out of rented accommodation over a short period of time, deposits repayment can be a long and tedious process for some of you.

Our simple multiple repayment function is available when you need to repay 2 or more deposits. All you need to do is log in to your account, then under “Custodial” select “Bulk Repayments”.

More information on how to repay deposits.

5)    Dispute resolution

It’s not always possible for landlords and tenants to agree how much of the deposit should be paid to each party, which is why we offer a free dispute resolution process. The process can begin once both parties have completed a Joint Deposit Repayment form, and or when a Statutory Declaration for a single claim is disputed by the respondent.

Our guide to the Dispute Resolution process.

Our top tips for managing disputes.

The ‘new’ model tenancy agreement

In February the Department for Communities and Local Government updated their ‘Model agreement for a shorthold tenancy’. The agreement is designed to strike a fair balance between the needs of the tenant and the landlord when entering a new tenancy. 

With property prices rising ever higher, getting on the housing ladder is becoming more difficult all the time. As a result, demand for rental properties with longer tenancies is expected to be higher than ever. 

A longer tenancy does have its advantages. A tenant can plan for the future, safe in the knowledge that they won’t be looking for a new place to live in three months. And landlords will have a steady rental income without the hassle of always looking for new tenants (and the hefty fees that often go with it). 

The agreement has a really useful step-by-step process that a landlord and tenant can go through before entering a new tenancy. If you’d like to know more, download the document here

We’re proud sponsors of Lettings Live and The Lettings Agency of the Year Awards 2016

Lettings Live and The Lettings Agency of the Year Awards are just around the corner (10 June 2016) and we’re delighted to be one of the official sponsors. The prestigious annual event is the highlight of many letting agents’ social calendars.  

Last year, we were delighted to win the Silver Award in the Supplier of the Year category. We’re in the running once again for the 2016 awards and we’d love to go one better and take home gold. 

We’d like to wish all our customers who’ve entered the awards the best of luck in their categories. 

Come see us at our stand during the live event

We’ll also be at the Lettings Live event during the day. Two of our business experts, Chris and David, will be on hand to share their knowledge and answer any questions you have about our service, or about tenancy deposit protection in general. 

If you’re attending the event, here’s why you should pop over and have a chat…

›    We’re experienced  - We’ve protected over 4.2 million deposits since 2007
›    We offer great service - Callers rate our Customer Service Team over 9/10
›    We’re fast - We repay deposits within 2 working days

If that’s not enough to tempt you, there’s also a prize draw – visit our stand for the chance for you to win an iPad mini. 

It promises to be a great day and we’re looking forward to meeting you all.  
 

David Hackett

David joined us in 2011, working in Customer Service and Dispute Resolution before recently moving to our Account Management Team as our Senior Account Manager. He’s responsible for ensuring his team continues to provide top service to our managed clients.

 

Chris Jackson

Chris is our Business Support Team Manager and has been a member of our team since 2010. He makes sure his team gives you the highest levels of customer service possible whilst providing the guidance and advice you need.

SAFEagent Awareness Week – we’re fully behind it

From the 6-10 June, letting agents and organisations from across the UK will come together in support of SAFEagent Awareness Week. SAFEagent was set up “by the industry, for the industry” to protect landlords’ and tenants’ money. As a company that is committed to protecting tenants’ deposits, we’re fully behind it.

Throughout the week, SAFEagent will highlight the importance of choosing a letting agent that is part of a Client Money Protection (CMP) Scheme. In an industry that’s estimated to be worth £2.7 billion, it’s vital that our customers’ deposits are safe. There are still too many cases where tenants are losing money to rogue agents. 

John Midgley, Chair of the SAFEagent Steering Group, says: 

“Choosing a letting agent without CMP in place is a massive risk for both landlords and tenants. Who can afford to lose thousands of pounds? We might finally be getting closer to mandatory CMP but we aren’t there yet. It is so important that consumers understand that they need to choose their agent wisely by asking if they are part of a CMP scheme before entering into a contract with them.”

While it’s not mandatory to protect client money in a CMP, it is now firmly on the Government’s agenda. It’s definitely a step in the right direction and one that is supported by many organisations in the housing industry, including us. 

We’d like to encourage all letting agents to become members of SAFEagent. The blue and black SAFEagent ‘mark’ gives tenants and landlords the peace of mind that their money is protected.

Competition: What’s that coming out of the fridge…is it a monster?

We know that with exams out of the way and summer break beckoning, there are things you’d rather be doing than cleaning your student let before you move out. Unfortunately, if you want to stand any chance of getting your tenancy deposit back, a good clean up is a must. Our #fridgemonster is back to remind you not to lose your deposit dough unnecessarily. Watch our short video and check out our tips for students to help you prepare for the end of your tenancy.

Win a professional clean for your property!

We’re offering one lucky household the chance to a professional clean for their student let when their tenancy ends.

What do you have to do?

For a chance to win this great prize, take a photo of the inside of your fridge, and tweet it @The_DPS along with the hashtag #fridgemonster. Whether it’s clean as a whistle, or your own little fridgemonsters are nestled in the vegetable drawer, tweet us a pic and we’ll choose our favourite image. You’ve got until Midnight on Friday 10 June to get your entries in.

Don't forget to read the rules of entry.

LAMP – supporting young homeless people in the community

As you may have seen, every three months we award up to £20,000 to charities that focus their efforts on housing related issues. 

In our seventh round of awards, we had some really strong applications and every detail was scrutinised. We’re delighted to announce that Luton Accommodation and Move-on Project (LAMP) was one of the successful charities in England and Wales.   

LAMP

LAMP is a small, local charity and for over 20 years they’ve provided accommodation and support to homeless young people aged between 16 and 25 in Luton, Bedford and the surrounding area. 

The £5,000 award will help provide privately rented accommodation for between eight and ten homeless young people. It will also help teach them basic household management and develop independent living skills.  

Our Head of Tenancy Deposit Protection, Daren King said: “LAMP is doing excellent work helping people find housing and teaching them the skills to live on their own.”

John Archer, Chief Executive Officer at LAMP, said: “LAMP is delighted to receive the support funding from The DPS.

“It will make a real difference to our operations and how we are able to provide safe accommodation to support young homeless people to encourage and enable them to build their self-confidence and move on to independent living.”

We wish them all the best and look forward to finding out how our donation has helped.

The DPS Fund – Revisiting the successful applicants (Part three)

Regular readers of our blog will know that we’ve been re-visiting successful applicants to the DPS Fund and finding out how our donations have been changing lives.

 


In this case study, we hear from Elmbridge Rentstart, whose application to the DPS Fund was rewarded with £10,000 back in 2014. Since 2001, they have helped well over 2,000 people in need. Here’s how with  money from the DPS Fund, they’ve been able to make a remarkable difference in the life of Mr M.

Sofa-surfing and the caravan

Four years ago, Mr M divorced, leaving his home, ex-wife and three children behind him. With no other option, he was forced into sofa-surfing until finding a job at a chocolate factory in West Sussex. However, things at the factory didn’t work out, and Mr M was forced to move to Weybridge, where he ended up living under a bridge.

‘Too much to handle’

It was at this point that Mr M went to Elmbridge Borough Council for a housing options interview. They agreed to help, but suggested he try Elmbridge Rentstart as well, as bidding for properties through the council can take a long time.

Rentstart immediately arranged for Mr M to go to a local night shelter that had recently opened. However, there was quite a lot of unrest in the shelter, and Mr M found the fighting between other residents was too much to handle. He couldn’t sleep at the shelter, feeling extremely uncomfortable and afraid. He decided to leave the shelter and live on the streets once again.

Though Mr M was forced to live rough for three months, Rentstart stayed in constant touch with him. As soon as a house became available, they took him to see it.

A suitable property

In early April, Rentstart found a suitable property for Mr M in the village of New Haw. After a brief viewing, he decided to move in straight away. Rentstart were able to help Mr M with all the necessary form-filling, and also provided him with a home starter pack containing a bed, soft bedding, kitchen equipment and all the basic requirements he would need to start living there.

Rentstart took him to the council offices to submit his forms and identification, and continued to offer tenancy support. This included arranging with the council that he pay his council tax in small manageable payments.

According to Mr M’s Rentstart adviser, he has settled well into the property, and his pride in his new home shows through in the excellent order in which he maintains it.

Mr M…store manager?

Mr M is now working four days a week in the Queen Elizabeth Foundation shop in Walton-on-Thames. While this position is unpaid, he is being given plenty of training, and has now applied for the position of Store Manager in another branch. If successful, Mr M will have moved from the streets into full time, paid employment. The support of Rentstart, has really helped Mr M escape the web of homeless and create for himself a future that is full of opportunity.

When we started the DPS Fund, we had high hopes that money we donated would have a real impact on people’s lives. However, we never imagined just how much difference we would help people to make. The feedback we’ve had from the charities and their beneficiaries has been truly heart-warming, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for the DPS Fund.

Updates in the Private Rented Sector

The Private Rented Sector has generated many talking points in 2015 and this will continue throughout 2016 and beyond.  New laws and proposals implemented by the Government look set to alter the way letting agents and landlords in the housing sector operate.

Right to rent checks roll out nationally

In 2015, the Government trialled a new immigration law that forces landlords to take responsibility for checking whether their prospective tenants are eligible to live in the UK.  The pilot was held in the West Midlands and though the results were inconclusive, the Government has decided to roll it out nationally.  

From the 1 February 2016, landlords across the country are required to have performed right to rent checks for any new tenancies starting after this date.  

The Home Office has provided guidance for landlords on how to administer right to rent checks, and the documents that prospective tenants must provide. These can be found on www.gov.uk.

Taxation changes

Along with changes to tax relief on wear and tear and on buy-to-let mortgages, the government is also looking to increase tax revenues by introducing a three percent Stamp Duty Land Tax surcharge on purchases of second homes. This includes buy-to-let residences, with exceptions proposed for investors buying multiple properties. 

The tax will be applied to all eligible second home purchases from 1 April 2016 and many commentators have said this could affect the PRS and home-buyers’ market, with some suggesting there will be a rush to buy property before the April deadline. Others expect the buy-to-let market to remain buoyant despite increased purchase costs. 

It’s not just about what’s being introduced by the Government, but what’s not  

Many people were shocked by the Government’s withdrawal of an amendment to the Housing Bill currently going through Parliament, which would’ve enforced mandatory Client Money Protection for letting agents.  

With many senior industry voices and letting agents calling for the change, it was disappointing that the amendment was removed. We believe along with others that this would have improved standards in the PRS.  

We were also disappointed to see the Government reject a proposal for rented properties to be fit for human habitation. Rogue landlords who disregard tenant safety have a negative impact on the reputation of the industry and most landlords and agents believe that more can be done to weed them out.  

Many of you responded to our survey about rogue landlords, allowing us to present a collective industry view to the Government consultation on the subject in late 2015. The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has now issued their response to the consultation, displaying strong support for the following measures:

> A blacklist of persistent rogue landlords and letting agents
> The introduction of Rent Repayment Orders
> Additional criteria in the fit and proper person test for licences
> The introduction of civil penalties
> New procedures for tackling abandonment
> An agreement for data held by deposit protection schemes to be made available to local authorities.

The government's response to the consultation discusses each of these proposals and the next steps they plan to take.  You can view the full response on the Government website, www.gov.uk.

The DPS Fund – Revisiting the successful applicants (Part two)

In our recent blog post about the DPS Charity Donations Fund, we looked back at the great things Chelmsford CHESS have achieved in their local community using money we donated.

Regular readers of our social media feeds may remember that in February 2015, one of the successful applicants to the DPS fund was Aylesbury Homeless Action Group (AHAG). In this blog, we’ll be going back to Buckinghamshire, and finding out how AHAG has been making a real difference in people’s lives.

 

 

Before we get started…what does AHAG actually do?

Since 2009, AHAG has been helping homeless and vulnerable people by giving them support and helping them to find accommodation. Here they tell us about how, thanks to money donated by the DPS Fund, they’ve been able to help one of their clients. Meet Mr S…

AHAG’s David Dickason introduces Mr S

“Mr S is a 30 year old male who presented at our drop in service in June 2015. Not only was he faced with imminent eviction, but he also had a number of support needs. These included a history of mental health issues which resulted in anxiety and depression. As a result, Mr S was vulnerable and susceptible to abuse. Added to which, as he’d never lived independently, he had issues with sustaining a tenancy.

“Mr S was sofa-surfing at his brother's property when he came to see us. As his brother was moving his partner and children in, Mr S could no longer stay there. We made an initial assessment, seeing Mr S at our offices to provide one-to-one support in a peaceful environment. We also encouraged Mr S to go and see his GP to get some extra care for his mental health alongside the support we were providing him during this difficult time.

Reaching the light at the end of the tunnel

“Before long, Mr S secured employment within the local area. We (AHAG) were able to support him in doing an affordability study that enabled him to budget for a property. Although on a 20 hour contract, he was working a 30 hour week. We were able to support him in getting his contract changed to reflect his true working hours, meaning he was entitled to Working Tax Credits.

“We supported Mr S in finding a private rental. One of our case workers met with the landlord and the client, and after ensuring that the property was suitable and that the correct paperwork was in place, we used £380 from the DPS Fund donation to cover the tenancy deposit.

The move into secure accommodation

“This enabled Mr S to move into secure accommodation, meaning he didn’t have to resort to becoming ‘street homeless’. We’ve provided Mr S ongoing support in terms of budgeting, and he’s now settled in his accommodation and remains in employment.”

Stories like Mr S’s were the reason we started the DPS Fund, and it’s truly humbling to see our donations having such a profound and wide-reaching effect.

If you’re a charity working in the housing sector, or you know a cause who could benefit from our help, find out more about our charity donations fund on our website.

The DPS Fund - Revisiting the successful applicants (Part one)

Since 2014, The DPS Charity Fund has been donating money to worthy causes in the property sector. In this blog, the first of three, we re-visit one of our successful applicants, and take a look at how our donation has helped individuals and their community.

Chelmsford CHESS

Based in Chelmsford, and working across Essex, CHESS aims to relieve hardship, distress and poverty among those living in adverse housing conditions. We felt they were ideal recipients of a donation from The DPS Charity Fund because their pledge to help people in need to pay deposits and rent with repayable loans really exemplified what the fund is all about, as well as having a recyclable nature that could go on helping people into the future.

Mr P

A typical beneficiary of Chelmsford CHESS’s work is a man who, in the interests of anonymity, we’ll call Mr P.

Here we look at how the CHESS Temporary Supported Housing Scheme, which received £10,000 from The DPS charity fund in the Autumn of 2014, helped Mr P turn his life around after hitting rock bottom.

Client Background

Back in February 2015, 40-year-old Mr P presented himself as homeless to CHESS. After discovering his wife was having an affair with his work colleague, his relationship had deteriorated very quickly and his situation was exacerbated following the issuance of a court order preventing him from returning to the joint tenancy he had shared with his wife.

At the time of approaching CHESS, Mr P had recently suffered 2 heart attacks, and the haulage business he owned at the time he became homeless, was in roughly £60,000 debt.

CHESS Temporary Supported Housing Scheme

After Mr P became resident within the CHESS Supported Housing Scheme, his support worker helped him to claim welfare benefits and to contact Christians Against Poverty (a charity that helps people overcome debt issues). Christians Against Poverty quickly took on Mr P’s case and they were able to negotiate with creditors to eradicate the debt.

Before long, the debt issue had been dealt with, Mr P was far more stable emotionally, and thanks to help from his friends, found work as a banksman on a waste disposal site.

The move into Private Renting

By now, Mr P’s support worker had decided he was ready to move on. Having been referred to CHESS’s Private Renting Scheme, he began researching suitable properties. With the funding given by The DPS, along with a rent guarantor (a friend), Mr P was able to secure a 1 bedroom property on a six month tenancy (£650 pcm) close to his new place of work. CHESS’s Secure Tenancies Officer was able to contact the letting agent and arrange for a cheque to be raised to cover the upfront costs of the tenancy, amounting to £1,300. Mr P took possession of his new home on 30th July 2015.

Since then, the Secure Tenancies Officer has remained in telephone contact with Mr P, who has now settled into his new accommodation and is continuing his employment.

We’re delighted to hear about stories like Mr P’s and hope our donation continues to help other people in need find the same support and success against adversity.  If you’re a charity working in the housing sector, or you know a cause who could benefit from our help, find out more about our charity donations fund on our website.

UK floods: what happens now

We’ve been saddened to see the impact of the terrible floods that have plagued so many regions of the UK over the last month, and our sympathies go out to all those affected. While the waters have now receded in many areas, the effects of the inundation will in many cases be long-lived and costly.

The rebuilding process is now underway and whilst the immediate focus is obviously to make homes habitable once more, where the property has been rented out, it’s also worth bearing in mind how the floods may affect the tenancy agreement.

How badly a property has been damaged can affect the tenancy and, of course, the tenancy deposit. If it’s still generally habitable, and can be repaired with the tenant in situ, then it should be in the mutual interest of the landlord and tenant to work together to limit damage and get the house back in order quickly. Whilst tenants shouldn’t be liable for any damage to the property or contents caused by the floods, they do have a responsibility to allow reasonable access for the landlord or contractors to carry out any work required. It’s vital for affected landlords and tenants to maintain good communication with each other during this period to make sure repairs are completed as soon as possible.

It may be that the property is so severely damaged, that it’s uninhabitable, requiring the tenant to move out whilst repairs are completed. In this situation, the tenant is not usually expected to pay rent for the period they’re unable to live there. In certain cases, the tenant may even be entitled to terminate the tenancy immediately, and agreements often contain some sort of provision in this regard. Again, it’s important for landlords and tenants to discuss the situation and agree a course of action together.

If the tenancy does continue after the repairs are complete, we recommend a new inventory is prepared, documenting the condition of the repaired property and any furnishings that have been removed or replaced. The new inventory should detail the extent and quality of the repairs and replacements, along with documentation such as receipts, or insurance claims. An updated inventory benefits both landlord and tenant with a clear and agreed record of all mid-tenancy changes, and reduces the likelihood of disputes arising when the tenancy comes to an end. For guidance on how to create a strong inventory, you can find our top 10 tips here.

Our thoughts go out to all affected by the floods.

The DPS team

Our Christmas Opening Hours

On behalf of everyone at The DPS, we'd like to wish you a very merry Christmas.

Our Customer Service Centre will be open at the following times over the festive period:

Monday 21st December - 8am – 6pm
Tuesday 22nd December - 8am – 6pm
Wednesday 23rd December - 8am - 6pm
Thursday 24th December - 8am - 5pm
Friday 25th December - Closed
Saturday 26th December - Closed
Monday 28th December - Closed
Tuesday 29th December - 9am - 5pm
Wednesday 30th December - 9am - 5pm
Thursday 31st December - 9am - 5pm
Friday 1st January - Closed
Saturday 2nd January - Closed
Monday 4th January – 8am - 6pm (Business as usual from now on).

 

Guest blog: Eric Walker on how new Government changes may affect the letting industry

Recently, George Osborne issued his Autumn Statement, containing some surprising announcements that may have an impact on the letting industry. Following our summary of the key points in the statement, we thought it would be good to find out the opinions of one of the industry’s most respected experts, Eric Walker, MD of the Northwood group, and his thoughts on how the Government’s recent raft of housing market changes might affect the future of the letting industry.  Here’s what he had to say!

There is no doubt both landlords and agents face challenges, but this is nothing new and this industry is one that adapts better than most. I have read the prophecies of landlords leaving in droves as I have read reports of an imminent crash in the housing market every year for as long as I can remember. Not even Robert Peston has ever called it right. Nevertheless, we are currently experiencing an unprecedented number of changes. These changes can be categorized under the headings ‘regulatory’ and ‘financial’.

Red tape is on the increase and undoubtedly there will be more to come. New rules over smoke alarms, immigration checks, licensing, consumer protection and the relentless voice of Shelter and Generation Rent make letting a complex business.  Whilst I support the need to improve standards, increasingly the lack of policing and enforcement creates an unfair burden on those who comply. Once the consumer enforcers start policing, and they will, there may be many landlords who unwittingly find themselves with large fines and even criminal records. Further, they will find that regaining possession of a property even where a tenant is in breach of the tenancy agreement will become much more difficult.

There was a time that all the Court required to grant possession under S21 of the 1988 Housing act was a tenancy agreement and a copy of the notice. Now, you must prove the deposit is protected, the tenant was given prescribed terms, provide a copy of the Gas Safety certificate, the EPC, proof of providing the Government’s ‘How to Rent’ pamphlet and that there were no repairs reported which were not dealt with appropriately.  My advice as one would expect is to use a professional, accredited letting agent.

Quite why George Osborne is targeting the buy to let market when more and more people chose to rent is baffling especially as there is such a shortage of homes and the private rented sector is a rich vein of supply. Some investors may well rush to buy before the April deadline, but this may cost them more as there will be lots of competition. What investors may not have considered is that Stamp Duty can be off-set against your future capital gains tax liability when you sell your property. Therefore, perhaps we should just look as the increased stamp duty charge as an advanced payment on CGT!

Towards the end of next year, landlords may well find an increase in the number of tenants looking for a home reducing void periods and raising rents through simple supply and demand. Interest rates remain artificially low and are unlikely to exceed 2% until 2020 at the earliest which will continue to mitigate the increased tax burden on mortgage interest. There is little doubt that property remains a safer and better long term investment than putting your savings in a bank account.

Some commentators believe many landlords will simply sell up creating an even greater housing shortage. I don’t subscribe to this as it implies a majority of landlords are professional investors. In fact, over 70% of landlords only have one property and 20% make no money from letting and rely upon capital growth as a long term investment. If I am wrong, then the seemingly anti-landlord measures will spectacularly backfire on those who called for them. If I am right, the market will simply adjust as it usually does. It will be a bumpy ride, but within 18 months we will have wondered what all the fuss was about.

The single most important element of improving this marketplace is consumer protection. I urge people to support the need for regulation and compulsory client’s money protection insurance. In an ideal world, I would like to see all deposits held in a custodial scheme. Landlords and tenants should seek out agents who choose to be members of a regulatory body and question those who do not. Tenants are quite properly becoming more aware of their rights. By providing a fair and professional lettings industry everyone but the rogue element benefit.

Eric Walker, MD Northwood

Autumn Statement 2015 – What it means for landlords

Yesterday’s Autumn Statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer contained some unexpected tax changes that stand to make it harder for small investors to enter the Private Rented Sector as landlords. From April next year, the Government is to introduce new rates of stamp duty for buy-to-let properties and second home purchases, set 3% above the rate for first home purchases.

On a buy-to-let property costing £180,000, stamp duty will be £6,500, whereas under current rules it would add a mere £1,100 to the purchase costs. The new rate applies to all second home purchases, not just buy-to-lets, so investors can’t just purchase a house for personal use and convert it to a rental property at a later date.

The new stamp duty rules, combined with recent increased regulation and tax relief changes for wear and tear replacement and buy-to-let mortgages, suggest that the Government intends to restrict the role of private investors in the PRS, and there is a real risk that landlords feeling the squeeze may exit the market. It’s interesting to note that the higher stamp duty rates will not apply to corporate entities or funds making significant investments in residential property, which indicates the Government is seeking to shift towards a more institutionally managed Private Rented Sector. The Government plans to consult on the policy detail, including on whether an exemption for corporate entities and funds owning more than 15 residential properties is appropriate.

The Government intends to use some of income generated by the increased duty to inject £60 million into the affordable housing budget for communities in England where the impact of second homes has had a particular impact, to help first time buyers get on the housing ladder. It’s not clear how an area will qualify as impacted by second home ownership, nor if new affordable housing can be created in these locations.  

There’s also little indication that the funds generated by the changes will be used to increase the provision of affordable renting. In fact, the statement announces that a pilot to extend right-to-buy to Housing Association tenants will commence shortly with five associations, further reducing the availability of social housing, with the expectation that the Private Rented Sector will absorb the strain.

Many commentators are already decrying the Chancellor’s changes, suggesting that they will in effect choke off investment in the PRS, but it remains to be seen how they will alter the make-up of the market and the type of investors operating in this sector.