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A kitemark-style scheme has been launched to reassure tenants and landlords worried about losing money handed over to a letting agent.
All agents displaying the SAFEagent mark will already belong to a client money protection scheme operated by the National Approved Letting Scheme, the Association of Residential Letting Agents, the National Association of Estate Agents and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. These pay out in the event of the agent going bust or misappropriating money that has been handed over as a deposit or rent.
Membership is voluntary, but the government hopes promotion of the SAFEagent mark will encourage more to join.
The SAFEagent scheme, established by the letting industry but supported by the government, has already registered more than 1,200 offices. Tenants and landlords can locate agents in their area who are registered with the scheme at its website.
Nick Cooper, chair of the SAFEagent steering group and managing director of letting agent Northwood, said: "We have robust procedures in place to make sure those signing up to the scheme have client money protection cover. The cover is annually renewable, and we know when each firm's renewal date is."
Several lettings agents have collapsed in the past few years, he said, resulting the loss of clients' money.
While the scheme will not stop disputes between tenants and landlords over the return of deposits, it should ensure anyone who uses a SAFEagent registered agent will not suffer loss as a result of their agent's actions.
Cooper said: "We want every person who is looking to rent a property to 'play it safe' and be aware they can protect their money. The message is simple – be safe … choose a SAFEagent when you rent. Remember, your money may be at risk if you do not use an agent that is part of a client money protection scheme."
The scheme is backed by organisations including housing charity Shelter, the NUS, and the Trading Standards Institute, and the Residential Landlords Association and the British Property Federation have allied themselves to the campaign.
Housing minister Grant Schapps said: "This is exactly the sort of measure the private rented sector needs – simple and sensible changes that are driven by industry and designed to deliver results.
"If there are any lettings agents who haven't already signed up to SAFEagent, I would urge them to do so immediately so they are not left behind when consumers vote with their feet."