It’s a well-known fact that estate agency in England is unregulated. In practice, this means anyone can set up as an estate agent, regardless of knowledge, experience or ethics. This has led to the proliferation of ‘agencies’ and ‘agents’ who fail to follow the regulations and who do shoddy work for their clients, giving a bad name to honest agents.

While accrediting bodies like the NAEA have rigorous standards for their members, there is still no national licensing scheme to help consumers differentiate between good and bad estate agents. There are few real protections for clients on the national level. It’s long past time this situation be remedied.

Despite numerous calls from estate agents, the government has failed to act. A few years back, the OFT gave the industry a clean bill of health, despite flagrant abuses by estate agents. While associations like the NAEA work hard to ensure the quality, compliance and ethics of their members, membership is entirely voluntary and the general public has little awareness of what membership in such an organisation truly means. Or, vice versa, the risks they take by contracting with an agent who has no membership in such accrediting bodies.

The NAEA licensing scheme is an exemplary blueprint that should be enacted on a national scale. It requires that licensees hold a recognised qualification, are covered by professional indemnity insurance and participate in continuing professional training on a yearly basis, which ensures consumers are connecting with only those agents who are qualified, knowledgeable and up to date on the laws and regulations affecting property transactions.

While the property Ombudsman is authorised to settle disputes and award up to £25,000 in compensation, an added benefit to the NAEA scheme is that it includes its own complaint and tribunal procedures and can fine its members up to £5,000 for breaching its code of ethics. For this reason, it’s important for buyers and sellers to understand that membership in NAEA is an important qualification for any estate agent they consider.