What the minimum qualification changes mean for agents

In April last year the government revealed that it wanted to see all estate agents in England hold a professional qualification in order to do their job which, although welcomed as well intentioned, will eventually require thousands of businesses across the UK to ensure all their frontline staff hold a property qualification.

A report published in July 2019 by the Regulation of Property Agents (RoPA) working group recommended the NVQ Level 3 minimum standard which, in practice, equates approximately to an A level.

“We are very supportive of the concept,” says David Cox, Chief Executive of ARLA Propertymark. “We’ve been lobbying successive governments for many years to bring this in and now it’s finally happening.”

ARLA says the proposals mean England and Scotland will have achieved comparable levels of minimum qualification, reassuring the public that the industry is making a bold step towards greater professionalisation.

The working group’s recommendations are being mulled over by ministers who are expected to begin implementing its proposals soon.

Cox says that the earliest he expects new legislation is in 2023, but nevertheless recommends that agents should get ahead of the curve now and start training staff and that many corporates are already doing so.

The basics of the RoPA group recommendations are that anyone working in a back or front office role or ‘reserved function’ as it’s called, will have to hold a Level 3 qualification. hose running a business however won’t be subject to the same rules, although they may be required to take regular ‘top up’ training courses to refresh themselves on legislation.

“I think most people in the industry already have some form of training or qualification so the new minimum standards will require them to take some sort of top-up module rather than having to do a whole course from scratch,” says Cox.

Where can you get training

Propertymark is the key provider of estate agent training in the UK and says that its NVQ Level 3 courses for sales and letting agents are already the benchmark that the government is likely to adopt. Other professional bodies include the Chartered Institute of Housing, City & Guilds and the Awarding Body of the Build Environment (ABBE) as well as many commercial training companies too.

In-house training

Many larger agencies have their own in-house training teams. One example is Winkworth, which has operated a centralised Academy including a ‘knowledge and regulation’ team to monitor compliance within its branch network for the last five years.

“I think a lot of agents are worried that the new minimum qualification will mean they could all lose their jobs but really it’s just about ensuring that your frontline staff are doing things in the right way,” says Claudia Green, Head of Lettings at Winkworth.

“So I think what the government is likely to propose is good; regulation of the industry has been needed for such a long time now. The big job for us is to ensure staff aren’t overwhelmed by training but instead take a stage-by-stage, modular approach.”

Winkworth has in the past looked for experience in candidates joining its business but says it has also increasingly been looking for relevant qualifications too.

“We all know the best agents aren’t necessarily qualified but we are keen now to ensure that when they join us we get them to a minimum level of qualification as quickly as possible.”

Green wants the government to make its mind up about the details of the new minimum qualifications ‘sooner rather than later’ because agents will need time to implement the new legislation.

What do the NVQ Level 3 courses include?

The courses vary but usually include four units, take between 12 and 18 months to complete and over 100 hours qualification study time. They include learning about health and safety, the legislation around the provision of property services and dealing with clients. They also cover the law of contract and land, understanding about discrimination, handling client money, the legal aspect of property management, letting practice, accounting, planning law and tenancies.

In summary

The industry appears to be supportive of the proposed minimum sales and lettings qualifications in England. Ultimately it will improve the reputation of estate and letting agents. Although they are unlikely to become compulsory until 2023, according to David Cox, agents must start planning now to ensure their staff and businesses aren’t overwhelmed.

Read the RoPA recommendations in full.

Author: Nigel Lewis, property journalist