Why politicians should focus on licensing not qualifications

Paul Smith

The conversation around professional standards and qualifications in estate agency has become a focal point of political debate. Recent discussions have spotlighted proposals from various political figures, highlighting a pressing need for comprehensive support and reform across the board, irrespective of party lines.

The suggestion from Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister Matthew Pennycook that estate agency directors should hold degrees and all estate agents possess at least one A-level, has sparked significant concern within the industry.

I believe this risks marginalising a significant portion of the profession, potentially excluding experienced agents who lack formal academic credentials but excel in their roles through practical expertise and dedication.

There are many entrepreneurs – and I consider myself among them – that would not be running businesses if everything focused solely on qualifications. What about people like billionaire Richard Branson who has dyslexia and left school without formal qualifications? If Labour had their way, would he be excluded from running a business?

We can’t all be defined by our success or failure at 16 years of age. Many people I know have blossomed in their careers, not in their places of education, driven by determination, hard work, grit and determination, and excellent interpersonal skills – despite their educational background.

Critically, proposals that prioritise academic qualifications over practical experience may inadvertently disadvantage those from less privileged backgrounds, contradicting efforts to foster inclusivity and equal opportunities.

It’s essential to recognise that talent, ambition, and professionalism are not exclusively cultivated within the halls of academia but can be developed through diverse life experiences and on-the-job learning.

The real issue extends beyond the debate over academic requirements. It calls for a concerted effort from all political parties to support the estate agency profession more effectively.

I’ve long called for a government-backed licensing scheme that would offer a structured framework for professional development that emphasises practical training, continuous learning, and adherence to ethical standards.

Such a scheme would not only enhance the quality of service within the industry but also promote public trust and confidence.

This approach would lead to current practices, including the conveyancing process, being modernised and inefficiencies addressed.

By focusing on practical skills, ethical conduct, and customer satisfaction, estate agents can elevate their profession to new heights, irrespective of their academic backgrounds.

Unfortunately such reforms are unlikely to become a reality because politicians don’t feel they have voter appeal. I’ve spoken in the past about this to numerous housing ministers, including Michael Gove and Grant Shapps, and there appears to be no appetite for a Government-backed licensing scheme.

It’s high time for politicians across the spectrum to recognise the importance of supporting our profession through meaningful, practical reforms rather than imposing potentially exclusionary academic requirements that could lead to many estate agents going out of business.



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    A licensing scheme makes perfect sense.

    Apprenticeships is also a great route to gain recognition, understanding and a qualification.

  2. MickRoberts

    These MP’s, politicians, Councillors, need a degree in Common sense. I have zero degrees yet house many more people than all the MP’s & Councillors.

  3. Realitycheck97

    So no qualifications, but training and learning? Presumably with some form of test or assessment that the learning has gone in. That’s a qualification in all but name.

    A lawyer needs a qualification. A conveyancer. A removals van driver (passes a driving test).

    One way or another, some measurement of competence, of which a qualification is one, is needed.

    As for experienced people have g to sit an exam, they should breeze it. If they can’t, are they fit to trade?

    The Branson dyslexia argument is last century. Plenty of ways of assessing people with challenges these days.

    But depressing to see the old experience versus qualifications argument in this day and age. The world has moved on.

    1. CountryLass

      It’s true that in this case, a license WOULD be the same as a qualification, but it would be a qualification in the industry. A lawyer needs a law qualification. Trying to act and trade as a lawyer with an A level in Design would not go well.

      We are not saying you don’t need qualifications to do our jobs, we are saying that having an arbitrary “you’ve just got to have one, doesn’t matter what it’s in or that it has no relevance to the industry” tick-box is divisive and useless. You need to be able to do basic maths, even if you can’t do it in your head, you need to know HOW to do it. You need to have a decent grasp of the English language (spellcheck etc is great but you still need either a good vocabulary or a decent thesaurus) and people skills.

      Experience and qualifications are not mutually exclusive.

      1. Realitycheck97

        So if the qualification was an industry qualification specific to the needs of the industry, as the benchmark to be given a licence, that ticks the boxes?

        1. CountryLass

          In that it is passing the test to get the license, yes. Like ARLA, NAEA etc, these are industry specific qualifications for membership that would be the same as licensing.

  4. Another House

    If it does become mandatory for everyone to be qualified then so be it. It is not the worst thing to happen in the industry. What must also happen that this includes anyone and everyone involved in the property industry to include, private home sellers, builders who sell their own properties etc and most importantly every single landlord that looks after and manages their own property and or portfolio. The industry as a whole must change not just estate & lettings agents.

  5. htsnom79

    Hmm, bad agents go bust, bad individuals get off loaded ( see point one ), in my experience genuinely corrupt agents are rare, real but rare………..

    1. NW.Landlord

      And you get a bad apple in every industry. The police force – sorry service – is highly regulated and you never get an issue with them …. Oh hang on.

  6. Fawkes

    Professional standards is something the industry and consumer should expect, certainly given the significance of the role estate agents play in the relevant individuals lives at that time. We can talk about the past and what was or was not required but that should not preclude us from moving forward as individuals and as an industry. Many firms invest significantly in their L&D in order to ensure their staff are competent in the role and to provide credibility to the public. The property industry will always be a hot topic and key election focus for all political parties and we will continue to be the can that gets kicked down the road. Legislation continues to change and inevitably requires more and more vendors and landlords to seek professional advice. Our duty of care is to ensure we provided it, regardless of how many academic qualifications we may have. (speaking as someone who has very few)

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Bait & switch. Rinse then repeat!

    Licensing has been on the cards for 20 years and there has never been enough of a consensus to get it through.

    How to deal with this?

    Simple! Threaten something so much worse (stupid?) that everyone is suddenly behind licensing because it seems so much better than the alternative.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think that licensing is a good idea and we should have done it decades ago.

    But I am very wary of politicians! As far as I can tell, the current breed of politician is doing very little for and on behalf of the people.

  8. estateagent

    If you’ve been in the industry long enough, you should pass a qualification in property with flying colours

  9. Elliot Ness

    Be under no illusion – next year there will be a Labour government and Sir Kier Starmer will be the PM. As estate agents our stock is very low amongst the general-public and probably even lower with the Labour party.

    For a license to be meaningful some for of barrier to entry or minimum base standard is required. To get a driving license one needs to pass a theoretical and practical assessment.

    Matthew Pennycook has not proposed that all estate agents have at least an A level and/or a degree if you’re a director of an estate agency. What’s he proposed is that all agents have a level 3 qualification (which is an A level or NVQ level 3) qualification from an approved body in the field in which the agent operates (e.g., a residential sales qualification). For directors this would need to be a level 4 qualification (which is a level 4 NVQ or an HNC). An undergraduate degree is a level 6.

    This is in line with the recommendations made in the 2018 Regulation of Property Agents Working Group.

    Regulation and qualifications are 2 different things. We have partial regulation and no minimum qualification standards to be an estate agent in the UK. Every other country in the Anglosphere and the G8 (less Russia) has both regulation and qualification standards needed to obtain a licence. If we had that in the UK, it might make it trickier for Russians to launder their money in London property for a start.

    He’s a simple question which many estate agents can’t answer. What type of property cannot be mortgaged if it has cavity wall insulation?

    This happened in New Zealand is 2012 – as a result the number of agents has halved and fees have nearly doubled.

    Licensing will be a boon to the independents and self-employed but perhaps damaging to the corporates who generally (as a rule) don’t pay well. It would represent a win/win for the good agents and the consumer.

  10. PRS is fun

    I personally don’t believe any narrative whereby the state and councils and accreditation lobbyists are going to hold everybody’s hand, and the customer will be happier with the product. Maybe I am just struggling to get past the the idea of landlord licensing, where councils say don’t worry – they aren’t coming after the good guys that bother to pony up for the license, and then proceed to do just that.

    For me it is another symptom of the diminished social contract that is all around us – we are conditioned to just shrug and accept that the state must have a controlling stake in all aspects of our lives.


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