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Estate Agents

Volume 576: debated on Thursday 6 March 2014

7. What recent assessment he has made of the number of complaints and the level of consumer detriment relating to estate agents’ practices in England and Wales. (902864)

16. What recent assessment he has made of the number of complaints and the level of consumer detriment relating to estate agents’ practices in England and Wales. (902875)

Citizens Advice received 2,831 calls on issues concerning estate agents from February 2013 to January 2014. The Office of Fair Trading investigated 114 complaints against estate agents from April 2013 to October 2013. Trading Standards continues to carry out enforcement activity against rogue estate agents. From 1 April, the Competition and Markets Authority will work with other consumer bodies to monitor the level of detriment relating to estate agents’ practices.

There is growing concern about the process of sale by tender, which has the potential to push up costs for both vendor and purchaser. Does the Minister share that concern?

This particular issue has not been raised with me, but I am happy to take it up with the enforcement authorities and the two redress schemes. I will ask the Office of Fair Trading and the CMA to consider the matter on behalf of the right hon. Gentleman.

There is no doubt that there are good estate agents out there as well as bad estate agents, but it is surely a very bad practice when both buyers and sellers are charged a fee for the same property. Will the Minister condemn the practice?

As the hon. Lady says, this is a potentially worrying and emerging trend that seems to be on the increase. I have already written to the redress schemes to ask them to examine the matter. From 1 April, Powys county council takes over responsibility for the overall enforcement of licensing of estate agents, and I will be writing to it to ask it to examine the practice.

The Minister mentions the Government’s intention for Powys county council, which serves a predominantly rural area, to take over the regulation of estate agents from April. Powys has had three different cabinets in as many months, and had to be threatened with intervention by the Welsh Government before it could agree a budget yesterday. Given that it cannot seem to get its own house in order, with practices such as double charging and mortgages by tender being put forward by estate agents, why does the Minister think the council is the right body to get house sales in order?

At the moment, both trading standards and the OFT possess enforcement powers relating to estate agents. From 1 April, we are simplifying the landscape by transferring the OFT’s powers to the lead authority, Powys county council. There is a precedent for having a lead local authority effectively to address functions across the nation—for example, illegal money lending teams for England and Wales do this. I have faith in the ability of our trading standards officers who are extremely effective, well trained and very responsive to the needs of members of the public, and I have every faith that Powys county council trading standards department will be able to exercise these functions perfectly adequately.