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Property industry chief calls for introduction of compulsory registration for UK estate agents

Major change is needed but it would not require a new act of parliament, claims Bill McClintock, chairman of the board of the company operating the Ombudsman for Estate Agents scheme.

He is in talks with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the National Federation of Property Professionals, the Register of Estate Agents, the Property Codes Compliance Board and Government departments in order to drive the move forward.

'Under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act, which came into effect on October 1, 2008, every residential estate agency handling property sales has to be a member of an approved redress scheme,' he explained.

'This means that every residential sales estate agency in the UK has to belong to the OEA or the Surveyors Ombudsman Scheme. OEA now has almost 95% of UK residential estate agencies registered with it so between us and SOS we should know of every business trading in the UK. Any we don't know about are now operating outside the law,' he added.

He pointed out that as both schemes operate to a Code of Practice it would be a straightforward matter to amend both Codes to include a requirement for all member agents to use only registered staff to advise on property values or negotiate sales.

'My idea is that all existing agents would initially be registered. After one year, those joining the industry would be required to train in order to join the register and those already in the industry would be required to demonstrate they had achieved at least that minimum standard in order to remain registered,' he said.

He dismissed critics. 'One of the arguments against registration is that it is a barrier to entry to the profession but that, of course, is nonsense. There are many other professions where a competence to do the job has to be demonstrated and that is not seen as a restraint of trade, so estate agency could easily be viewed in the same light.'

Also, he said, at present individuals who break the rules or who are not professionally competent can easily move to a job in another estate agency, maybe in a different part of the country, and just start working again. Employers have nothing they can check to ensure the honesty or suitability of a job candidate.

'NFOPP and RICS already run training schemes for estate agents and require their members to undergo continuing professional development and this standard would make a good starting point for the registration requirement,' he said.

'New legislation has given the industry the opportunity to take the initiative and itself introduce registration quickly, efficiently, and fairly to those who already work in the sector. I would consider the cost to be minimal and it could even be included in the membership fees of professional bodies,' he added.

The public would also be able to access the list of registered estate agents through any of the organisations backing the scheme.