Who regulates estate agents?

This page provides brief information about the current regulation of estate agents in England and Wales. It is important to note that in England and Wales, there is no legally binding contract at the point when a seller accepts an offer; there is only the potential for a transaction at a verbally agreed price. This means that until exchange of contracts, either side can pull out without being liable to the other for any losses incurred. There are different property laws in Scotland, where there is a much earlier legally binding agreement between the buyer and seller of a property.

For more detailed information see the Commons Library briefing, Regulation of estate agents.

Introduction

Currently, estate agents are not required by law to be licensed or qualified. However, many individual estate agents are professionally qualified and do belong to a professional body, such as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), which offers sector pathways to membership, including pathways for estate agents. The National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) offers various routes to membership and also offers professional qualifications.

Importantly, estate agents who engage in residential work must belong to an approved redress scheme. There are two: The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme and the Property Redress Scheme. If a consumer wishes to make a formal complaint, they must first contact the estate agent in question. If the complaint remains unresolved, the matter can then be directed to the appropriate redress scheme. Each scheme offers an escalated complaints procedure and has the authority to resolve the complaint.

The regulator for estate agency across the UK is the National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team (NTSEAT). The remit of the NTSEAT is to assess whether an individual or business is fit to carry out estate agency work within the terms of the Estate Agents Act 1979 (see below).

What is an estate agent?

The Estate Agents Act 1979 defines estate agency work as:

[…] introducing and/or negotiating with people who want to buy or sell freehold or leasehold property (including commercial or agricultural property) where this is done in the course of a business pursuant to instructions from a client.

How are estate agents regulated?

The principal regulations are the Estate Agents Act 1979 (EEA 1979) and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (known as the Unfair Trading Regulations), both of which apply to the UK as a whole. Very broadly, the EEA 1979 sets minimum standards of behaviour across the profession, whilst the Unfair Trading Regulations protect consumers from unfair or misleading trading practices, misleading omissions and aggressive sales tactics.

As outlined above, the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007 also requires all UK estate agents who engage in residential work to belong to an approved redress scheme dealing with complaints about the buying and selling of property.

Who regulates estate agents?

The UK’s regulator for estate agency work is the National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team (NTSEAT). NTSEAT is delivered by Powys County Council on behalf of the National Trading Standards Board. The remit of NTSEAT is to assess whether an individual or business in any part of the UK is fit to carry out estate agency work within the terms of the Estate Agents Act 1979. Any breach of the Act is investigated by Trading Standards officers. If Trading Standards officers believe that the conduct of a particular estate agency is in violation of certain provisions of the Act, they can refer the case to NTSEAT for consideration of a banning or warning order.

Specifically, NTSEAT is responsible for:

  • issuing individual banning or warning orders under the Act
  • maintaining a public register of such banning or warning orders
  • approving and monitoring consumer redress schemes
  • providing generic advice and guidance on estate agency matters, in conjunction with Citizen’s Advice, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute and other partner agencies

What is the purpose of the Estate Agents Public Register?

The Estate Agents Public Register provides details of individuals and/or businesses who are currently prohibited from engaging in estate agency work or who have received a formal warning under the Estate Agents Act 1979.

How to complain?

The Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007 requires agents who engage in residential work to belong to an approved redress scheme. Currently, there are two approved redress schemes, namely: The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme and the Property Redress Scheme. Each scheme provides a list of member agents on its website.

Each redress scheme is approved by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute and the National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team. A consumer who has a legitimate complaint about the service they have received should, as a first step, complain in writing to the relevant estate agency. If the consumer remains dissatisfied, he or she may then contact the relevant redress scheme. Each scheme offers a mediation service and a system for resolving complaints and reaching a settlement where an initial complaint to an agent has not been successful.

There is more information, including the kinds of complaints which can and cannot be considered by each redress scheme, at these web pages:

Where to go for consumer advice?

Further reading

Commons Library briefing, Regulation of estate agents.