ESTATE agents may soon have to become members of a government-approved redress scheme, following renewed calls for the industry to be regulated.
Deputy Max Andrews lodged a two-part proposition with the States to establish regulatory schemes for estate agents in late March, after the Environment Minister revealed he had ‘no plans’ to do so.
Deputy Andrews said at the time that there was ‘a need to ensure that estate agents were members of a statutory regulatory body and redress scheme’.
He added: ‘As it stands, estate agents can access the market with ease without undertaking professional qualifications when dealing with transactions that are the biggest investments some people will make in their lifetime.’
Deputy Andrews has now described Deputy Renouf’s decision not to move forward with regulation as an ‘unpopular move.’
The first part of the proposal, that the Economic Development Minister should establish a ‘statutory regulatory body for estate agents’, has been rejected by the Council of Ministers in an amendment to his proposition.
But the second part, that estate agents should register with an ‘independent redress scheme’ looks set to pass, albeit with a slight amendment: that the scheme is ‘approved by the Government of Jersey’.
As it now stands, the proposition requests that by December 2024, there will be a requirement for estate agents to obtain membership of a government-approved independent redress scheme. It would then be an offence for a business which conducted estate agency activities not to be a member and participate in an approved redress scheme under the Consumer Protection Law, the penalty for which carries a level three fine (£10,000).
Deputy Andrews said that the proposition would bring Jersey in line with the UK, where it has been a mandatory requirement for estate agents to join an approved consumer redress scheme since 2008. The Property Ombudsman, one of the schemes, makes approximately 5,700 decisions a year, achieving 99% compliance.
Deputy Andrews said: ‘I do think that this is a satisfactory outcome because what we will be seeing is that people using estate-agent services will be protected by enhanced legislation. The consumer protection law is very generalised and we need to go this one step further by introducing more robust legislation.’
He added that the previous decision not to progress was ‘a very unpopular move from Deputy Renouf’.
‘You could tell by talking to people that it was not welcomed. We do need to see something in place, because many people have experiences they want to share about ordeals they have with estate agents,’ he said.
Deputy Andrews explained: ‘As a legislature, we do have things in place, but we could ideally be better positioned. This is what the public want. I have been putting a lot of pressure on the Council of Ministers, and now they have conceded some ground.’
He expects the Council of Ministers will support the amendment when it is debated in the States.
Estate agents in Jersey are not currently required to hold any professional qualifications, belong to a professional body or abide by a code of conduct.
Previously, Deputy Renouf said that the existing Consumer Protection Law ‘already provides a comprehensive framework to deal with unfair commercial practices’ and ‘supports estate agents in the Island to adopt good practice’.
He deemed ‘it would be disproportionate to introduce new regulation specifically for estate agents’.
His comments came after a review carried out in 2021 found that only 40% of Jersey estate agents had voluntarily become members of a redress scheme dealing with disputes between clients and agencies – a figure low in comparison with that of other jurisdictions.
A survey of 65 estate agents also discovered that 86% believed regulation was ‘necessary’.
Many Island estate agents have recently renewed calls for regulation, and former Environment Minister Deputy Steve Luce also said that the absence of progress from the new government was ‘disappointing after the Scrutiny Panel had worked so hard to produce such compelling recommendations’.