Richard Lambert, NLA Chief Executive Officer, offers his thoughts on this year’s National Conference in Swansea…
There’s always a sense of relief when you leave the annual conference feeling that it was a success. We always work hard to plan a mixture of thought-provoking ideas and commentary from an interesting range of speakers, and hope that a clear idea emerges from the debate of what the next steps should be. But I’ve done this often enough to know that you only really find out on the day if your plan works.
For me, three main things stood out from this year’s conference.
The first was a brief, and from the audience reaction not entirely convincing, appearance from Wales’ Housing Minister, Carl Sargent. While we were of course grateful to Mr Sargent for attending this year’s conference, I’m not sure many landlords in the room were comforted by his comments that the Welsh Government wants to make it “worthwhile” to work with private residential landlords in Wales. He said: “Our role as the Welsh Government is to work with you to provide sustainable homes.”
The reason landlords won’t be taking too much solace in his comments is because it is difficult to gain any sense from the new Welsh Housing Bill, published the day before, that the Welsh Government really grasps the landlord perspective. For example, as it stands, the proposals on the face of the Bill appear to mean that landlords will need to obtain multiple licenses from the multiple local authorities in which they let property. And local authorities will be able to set their own standards and training requirements to qualify. An administrative nightmare beckons …
Which takes me nicely on to the second thing that struck me:
The NLA argued against mandatory licensing and accreditation, but the Welsh Government has confirmed that is its policy. Without doubt the clear message from this Conference was that if that is so, then we need one accreditation scheme for Wales, as we understood was the policy, not a multiplicity of local variations. As such, the NLA has moved quickly to call for greater clarity over the proposals.
Possibly the most telling comment of the day came during the afternoon debate on ‘self-regulation or mandatory regulation?’, which took an in-depth look at the current balance and pros and cons of both. A local authority delegate raised their concern with the Bill as drafted, considering “… the work local authorities in Wales had contributed to the proposals” (sic).
For me, this comment acknowledged that Welsh local authorities were as thrown by the published proposals as we were. It also highlighted the need for guidance on how the registration, licensing and accreditation schemes should be administered locally so as to avoid unnecessary duplication. We will all benefit from clarity and simplicity.
The third thing that struck me was that, whatever the views on mandatory accreditation, on a show of hands, half the landlords in the room were already accredited. There’s a benefit to landlords to having a public demonstration of their knowledge and competence. One thing is certain, if Government is backing accreditation, there is a greater chance than ever before that tenants will start asking for, and eventually choosing, accredited landlords and agents, creating the market push that will really make it worthwhile.
But let’s not forget that it’s not just landlords who benefit from accreditation. If the good, responsible landlords identify themselves, they can be filtered out of the enforcement process, leaving the local authority an easier task in enforcing against the bad.
Too often landlords are misjudged by the minority who are criminals rather than landlords and who don’t represent the wider landlord demographic. As the NLA’s Chairman, Carolyn Uphill commented during the discussions, “…accreditation is undoubtedly a value to the PRS as it demonstrates our ability to stand up and be counted”. What are we waiting for?