The House of Commons will today debate an amendment to the Scotland Bill that would devolve the regulation of estate agency to the Scottish Parliament. The move is strongly backed by the Law Society of Scotland, which is seeking to avoid ‘unnecessary bureaucracy’ inhibiting the provision of estate agency services by Scottish solicitors.
In Scotland property is commonly advertised and sold through solicitor firms rather than estate agents. The profession enjoys a powerful market presence through local solicitors’ property centres, particularly in the major population centres of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Nationwide chains are chipping away at this dominance, however.
Estate agency regulation across the UK is presently subject to the Estate Agents Act 1979 and outsourced to Powys County Council in Wales. Last year Powys and Anglesey Trading Standards was engaged to run the National Trading Standards Estate Agents Team, taking on some of the powers previously held by the defunct Office of Fair Trading. These powers include assessing whether Britain’s half a million agents are fit to carry out their work within the terms of the act.
Successive governments have refused to consider more comprehensive regulation of estate agency.
In Scotland, by contrast, estate agency carried out by Scottish solicitors is regulated by the Law Society of Scotland.
Giving evidence to the Smith Commission last year, the society argued strongly for estate agency to be devolved, highlighting the different practice of law in Scotland. It also fears that new alternative business structures in Scotland co-owned by non-lawyers will face ‘unnecessary bureaucracy’ without the change. These new providers would be regulated by one regulator for legal services (the society) and another for estate agency work.
The amendment has been tabled by Alistair Carmichael, former Scottish secretary.
Christine McLintock, president of the society said: 'Conveyancing law and the property market in Scotland operate quite differently from the rest of the UK. Legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2010 allows for new forms of solicitor- and non-solicitor owned legal practices. We hope to become a regulator of these new firms by the end of this year.
’The 2010 act was unable to allow approved regulators of these new providers to regulate their estate agency work alongside legal services. It means these new providers would be regulated by one regulator for legal services and regulated by another for their estate agency work. This all risks unnecessary bureaucracy for these new providers as they have to work to the requirements of multiple regulators.
’By devolving the regulation of estate agency to the Scottish Parliament, the law could be more easily changed to allow the same regulator to regulate estate agency and legal services, like conveyancing, on a more consistent basis.’