19 August 2014
YORKSHIRE'S largest residential letting agent, Linley & Simpson, has become an inaugural member of a ground-breaking client money protection scheme - after playing a key national role in its creation.
The SAFEagent kitemark has been launche
New research by Shelter has shown that as many as one million private renters have been the victim of scams.
Director of Linley & Simpson, Will Linley, said the initiative was a big step forward: "We were delighted to be invited to share our views and be part of the small working group tasked with developing a solution to one of the most important concerns facing our industry.
"Nobody books a holiday with a travel agent who is not properly accredited and registered - but, as ever-increasing numbers are finding to their cost, this isn't always the case in the rental market where the stakes are far higher.
"The kitemark now makes it far easier for landlords and tenants to differentiate between the good, the bad and the plain ugly among letting agents.
"Only those agencies which are guaranteed to safeguard client money will be able to display it. Those who are not, and who continue to tarnish the reputation of the sector, will be exposed."
After the Government ditched plans for a mandatory licensing scheme earlier this year, anybody or any organisation can still set up as a letting agent without any experience or qualifications. And, as the sector bucks the economic trend and continues to grow, it leaves the door wide open for more unethical operators to enter.
The SAFEagent scheme - supported by the National Association of Letting Agents (NALS) - is the first step in the industry's bid to regulate itself. Companies have to meet strict criteria to be accredited as a SAFEagent and be allowed to display the kitemark of reassurance - and Linley & Simpson is encouraging as many agencies as possible to sign up.
The kitemark will start appearing from now on after the launch to agents.
Mr Linley added: "Our staff continue to hear sorry tales where landlords and tenants have put their trust into unregulated agents, and their money into their bank accounts - never to see it again. All too often it is used as an interest-free loan to keep them and their businesses afloat."
In recent months it has helped a range of new customers pick up the pieces after being hoodwinked by an unregulated agent, including:
- A York landlord who lost hundreds of pounds after the agent holding his tenants' deposit suddenly disappeared without trace from its 'office' on an industrial estate
- A Leeds property owner who was left with empty pockets when the rental agency he had used to manage his portfolio closed down
- A Harrogate private landlord who used his tenants' deposits to help his own cash-flow problems and reduce his overdraft
- An Ilkley tenant who transferred money to secure a property for rent featured on a classified website - only to find to his cost that the property didn't exist
- A Wakefield tenant who was conned out of his monthly rent in a scam where he was telephoned by a fraudster pretending to be from a letting agency asking him to pay into a different bank account
Linley & Simpson specialises wholly in properties for rent and its growing network of branches include York, Harrogate, Wetherby, Ilkley, Wakefield and three in Leeds.