News & Blog

The Advisory Council evolves into the Advisory Panel

Sean Hooker, Head of Redress explains the history of the PRS Advisory Council, why it has evolved into the Advisory Panel and how you can apply to join the panel.

Eight years ago, the Property Redress Scheme sprang into life as a government approved escalated complaints service for property agents.

Having successfully run mydeposits, one of the three tenancy deposit protection schemes since 2007 dealing with end of tenancy disputes, this was a logical evolution for the Hamilton Fraser Group.. As the person who set up, ran, and developed this award-winning alternative dispute resolution, I was seen as best placed to head up the new redress scheme.

Of course, however experienced you think you are, help and guidance is always needed, and whilst I had a fantastic team and the wisdom and support of the Hamilton Fraser Group, it was felt that external assistance would be extremely valuable. We wanted a governance structure that oversaw, scrutinised and held both the scheme and I to account and decided to set up an Advisory Council.

It was important for the scheme to properly reflect the sector, to be independent and to be respected – and so an exercise was embarked upon to recruit several industry specialists to join the body.

The first and most important appointment was the choice of chair and I felt this person should be somebody with no vested interest in the property sector. But they’d have to have a good knowledge of the challenges it faced and experience in dealing with both the Government and the industry.

It was suggested therefore that a parliamentarian would fit the bill perfectly. It is always tricky to find a politician who commands the respect of all parts of a particular sector and has the time to dedicate to a role and therefore this all but rules out MPs from the Commons. But the House of Lords is a fertile ground for finding someone to fit the bill (no pun intended).

Fortunately, over the years I’d got to know a very respected peer that I knew would be able to guide me in the right direction and so I reached out to them for some advice. A half hour chat later and explanation of what I needed, it dawned on me that his Lordship was indeed the very person that I was looking for. It did not start out as a job interview, but it quickly made perfect sense.

Chairman in place, the job of finding recruits for the council started in earnest. I made a number of telephone calls to people I had either met, attended meetings with or knew to be influential in the sector and, having sounded them out, I proposed them to the new chair. By July 2014 we had the first three members in place. These were Richard Price who was on the board of the United Kingdom Association of Letting Agents (UKALA), Paul Shamplina, Founder of Landlord Action and Tessa Shepperson, owner of Landlord Law and whose textbooks on letting law had had a great influence on me and educated me in the legal minefield which was, is and will continue to be part of our sector.

The team had expanded by the time the legislation that had mandated the membership redress scheme went live in October 2014. Joining us were David Westgate, then MD of Lettings at Andrews, and Nick Lyons of leading inventory company No Letting Go.

The first meeting chaired by Lord Monroe Palmer of Childs Hill was held in our offices, and we were up and running.

A little later, an experienced Trading Standards officer was co-opted. Alex(andra) had worked for several London Boroughs on the enforcement of the legislation and spent a considerable amount of time calling asking for information on various agents who were up to no good in whatever particular patch she was working at the time. I suggested to her that she should join the advisory council and she brought the experience and perspective from an enforcement angle.

The council met regularly and having a friendly peer as chair we were privileged to be able to meet in Westminster Palace, whose grand setting was the perfect backdrop for the meetings. In addition to these, the members provided an industry perspective for our annual reports and gave advice and insight for the rapidly expanding scheme.

The members have remained consistent over the years with David Westgate being the only resignation. This was because he had been offered the role of Group CEO of Andrews and he duly recommended his replacement, Alison Nunez. We also co-opted veteran lettings agents, Eric Walker, who brought a huge amount of experience to the membership.

It was interesting that one of the big issues that came out of our regular meeting was the lack of financial protection for letting agents’ customers if money held by them such as rents and deposits, went missing. Both Eric and Alex were adamant this was a serious problem and Eric as one of the founders of SafeAgent who advocated insurance against this, strongly believed this cover should be mandatory. To this end, our chair agreed to talk to the Government and see if the law could be changed. His successful lobbying led to him become the joint author of a report following a working group set up by the Government which recommended compulsory insurance and this was accepted by the Government and became law. A proud moment for me.

This was the proudest moment of the council itself too and, despite numerous changes of ministers, three name changes of the Government department, the consistency of the council has proved a real strength and value.

Of course, then Covid struck. Out went the face-to-face meetings and everyone was concentrating on their own challenges. It also focused us on the needs of our scheme and our members in terms of what support we could give them.

The new virtual world opened up the horizons of expanding and adapting the way our scheme engaged with the sector and how we could assist and raise standards for the greater good.

The council had already lost Paul Shamplina as an independent member, when Hamilton Fraser bought Landlord Action and recruited him. And whilst he attended the meetings as part of my team, we did not replace him. When three more of the members moved on from their original positions it also became obvious that we would need to look at the future structure and purpose of the council.

We have not rushed this and have worked with the existing council, government and the board of the Hamilton Fraser Group to create a new structure. The new approach reflects that our scheme has grown significantly over the years to now over 16,000 members and is the largest redress scheme for letting agents in terms of individual members. We are expanding not just members but the areas in which we specialise too, especially as the property sector continues to innovate and modernise.  

The crux has also been the proposed future changes to the lettings sector with a white paper for renters recently published and the work that is being done in the home purchase sector, leasehold reform and the possible regulation of agents on the horizon. The Government has promised to close the gaps in consumer protection in areas such as rent-to-rent, property sourcing and education, park homes, short term lets and more.

Redress and alternative dispute resolution are set to be front and centre of solutions to raising standards and to greater protection in the housing sector and this is why we as a scheme are poised and ready to embrace these opportunities.

We will continue to engage and expand our connections within the sector and our own membership. We will democratise and represent the diversity and complexity of the market out there and reflect and represent the varying needs of those who use and provide the services.

The existing Advisory Council has therefore now dissolved and will be replaced by an expanded Advisory Panel, to which we are inviting applications for up to fifteen positions, covering multiple specialisms. In addition, we will in the near future be setting up a separate panel for our member firms to directly engage with the scheme and to further scrutinise what we do.

Both panels will be open and transparent, and we welcome challenge and robust scrutiny and there will mechanisms to refresh and replace members appropriately. We also value the continuity and stability that has epitomised the scheme in its rapid and successful growth so the existing Chair of the Council, Lord Palmer has agreed to Chair the Advisor Panel and will oversee the selection of the members.

Nothing changes but change itself and this restructure embodies the best of the old and the new. It will be a dynamic and flexible body with members bringing genuine expertise and experience to help shape the future of the scheme and to ensure the new opportunities for expanding and developing consumer redress in the housing sector become a reality.

 

Find out more information on applying to become part of the advisory panel.

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Property Redress Scheme is approved by Government under the Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Competent Authorities and Information) Regulations 2015