The Rent Smart Wales quango, now five years old, has been sharply criticised by the National Residential Landlords Association.
A report commissioned by the association reveals the RSW processes to have a so-called “accountability deficit” because they lack transparency, have no central guiding strategy, have been insufficient in communication with rental sector players, and cost landlords more than they put in.
RSW was introduced by the Welsh Government through the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. The body went live in November 2015 and gave landlords and agents one year to comply before enforcement activity began.
However, RSW has faced criticism for bureaucratic compliance rather than improving standards in the PRS and eliminating criminal landlords. Additionally, the body was introduced as “Wales’ single licensing authority” yet it turns out that local councils retain the ability to introduce discretionary licensing schemes for private rented properties.
These require far higher fees and, often, duplicate paperwork - for example, additional licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation is in place in half of Wales’ 22 councils.
The report - which the NRLA claims is the most comprehensive assessment of the powerful quango to date - also makes recommendations to improve RSW’s performance.
- a call for a public annual report into RSW’s performance and direct scrutiny by the Senedd (the Welsh Parliament) every year;
- operational and political decisions to be clearly identified for reasons of accountability;
- carrying out a recommendation by a Senedd committee back in 2011, that there should be a private rental sector strategy from the Welsh Government;
- and a demand that the unanticipated surplus - “numbering in the millions” - generated by RSW should be used to provide discounts or free training for landlords or more effectively deployed into improving enforcement activities and tackling criminal landlords.
NRLA Wales’ Policy & Public Affairs Officer Calum Davies says: “The NRLA believes there has been insufficient scrutiny of RSW – an incredibly powerful body considering how much regulatory and prosecutorial power it wields – and felt a duty to fill that evidence gap.
“What is clear from that research was a lack of transparency as to how decision-making within the organisation is conducted and who is politically accountable for decisions that affect over hundreds of thousands across Wales.
“It is obviously a positive thing that RSW and the Welsh Government share the NRLA’s ambition to improve the private rented sector. We hope our research and its findings will advance the debate about improving standards and encourage actions to be taken that will result in a fairer sector for all.”