After more networking during the lunch break, I followed the ARLA sessions, beginning with a presentation by Nik Madan. He started by giving out his personal mobile telephone number and direct email address and inviting everyone to contact him direct at any time, even at 3 am in the morning! As the new President of ARLA he explained that he needed and wanted to know what was of concern to his members, especially as ours is an industry under siege he said. Nik told us that in England there have been 145 new pieces of legislation affecting landlords enacted during this Parliament – the one that had promised to reduce ‘red tape’!
Nik then moved to explaining his 3 ‘c’s for the future:
- CRADLE to grave encouragement and support for letting agents new and old so that becoming a letting agent is seen by the young as a desirable career; he stressed the importance of apprenticeships in achieving this ambition.
- CORPORATE engagement because it seems that the ‘big boys’ in the lettings industry are not clear on the need for ARLA; he wants to engage with them to bring in the large corporates so that ARLA has more influence in Parliament.
- CONSUMER awareness by getting ARLA’s message over to the public at large; the ARLA logo needs to convey the same strength and security to the public as the ABTA and ATOL logos do.
A series of short ‘update’ sessions then followed; they were on the following topics:
- ‘Key tax changes affecting your client’ by Rob Gunn
- ‘Legal Update’ by Caroline Glover and Emma Hunt
- Dispute proofing your tenancies’ by Alison MacDougall.
The final presentation was made by Eilish O’Neil, the Manager of the Private Rented Sector Policy Team of the Department for Communities and someone that I know from my regular Review Meetings with the Northern Ireland Government when we discuss the progress of our Tenancy Deposit Scheme and any issues that need attention.
Eilish shared with us the key points that emerged from the recent review and consultation on the Private Rented Sector and confirmed that the PRS made up 19% of the housing stock in Northern Ireland; the Social sector accounted for 17% and Owner Occupied the majority at 64%, showing just how important the PRS is to the Department. She went on to confirm that 83% of landlords in the province had just 1 or 2 properties to let and only 6% had 5 or more properties, so there was a very heavy reliance upon small portfolio landlords.
In respect of the level of participation in the review, Eilish advised us that there were 1,000 downloads and over 90% agreed with all of the suggestions about the need for increased regulation of the PRS. 87% had agreed that letting agents should be regulated and there were high levels of support for the need to make the TDP legislation retrospective and to remove the current 6 month restriction on enforcement.
As the majority of the responses were from landlords and letting agents there was a residual need to find out what tenants views were so each of the TDP schemes was asked to survey all of those tenants that had a live protection at the time of their specific survey and out of 10,000 tenants that were invited to respond, 1,200 did, which gave the Department further guidance on the issues that need attention.
In view of the above, a PRS Consultative Panel has now been established to produce firm proposals for change; these proposals will be published for public consultation by autumn 2016 so watch out for these and make sure that you participate fully in the future of your industry in Northern Ireland.
To end what had been a very informative and valuable day networking with key players in the sector, Nik Madan chaired a Q&A session with Mark Hayward and David Cox forming the Property Expert Panel.
The 4-30 finish also enabled me to fulfill an ambition to visit the Titanic Experience and I can only say that if you are ever in Belfast with a couple of hours to spare it is well worth a visit; your time will not be wasted, I assure you.