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Improving the sector

Rent Smart Wales recently marked its fifth anniversary. With the re-registration process now underway, Bethan Jones looks back at the experience of establishing the scheme, the benefits it has brought to landlords, agents and tenants across Wales and how it can have a greater influence on the sector as the service continues to develop.

Rent Smart Wales was launched in November 2015 to drive up standards in the private rented sector and to help professionalise the role of landlords and agents for their own benefit and that of their tenants. All landlords with property in Wales are required to register with the scheme while managing landlords and agents must complete training to ensure they understand their rights and responsibilities and obtain a licence.

Just over five years on and with more than 106,000 landlords registered – 48,500 of whom are also licensed to carry out letting and management activities, more than 5,100 licensed agents and more than 214,000 properties registered, representing high levels of compliance across the 22 Welsh local authorities, we have come a very long way.

And with the great strides we continue to make, it’s hard to consider the scheme as anything other than a success, which would not have been possible without Welsh Government and partner support and an incredible team.

The majority of managing landlords and agents who have completed the necessary training to gain their licence report that it has helped them to better manage their businesses –  endorsement from the sector itself as to how Rent Smart Wales is supporting the improvement of the private rented sector for all.

By now, the scheme has grown into so much more than a registration and licensing initiative and I’m pleased how we have been able to deliver considerable added value to landlords and agents in a number of ways.

One example is the free online courses we’ve made available to landlords and agents so they can continue to gain knowledge and skills, and broaden their expertise. Some of these courses have been developed with industry experts like Tai Pawb and the National Residential Landlords Association to ensure that the content is relevant and brought to life with real examples.

Another significant project is the work being done to improve the energy performance of rented property across Wales, particularly those which are rated F or G. Research, mapping and communication is helping to support and encourage landlords in Wales to meet the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard requirements set by the UK Government.

This particular project includes grant assistance to install first time central heating in qualifying properties. It is funded through the Warm Homes Fund on the back of a collaborative funding bid between local authorities and Rent Smart Wales. This financial option complements the other financial assistance available in local areas, for example NEST, ARBED and local grants. The partnership recognises that local authority enforcement tools will be deployed once the communication and financial assistance part of the plan is completed. This demonstrates how Rent Smart Wales is influencing improvements to property conditions benefitting landlords and their tenants as well, and in a particularly timely way perhaps, for many low-income households living in rented accommodation.

All licences issued come with a set of licence conditions which set out things that a licensee must comply with to maintain their licence in order to continue to operate in the sector. We’ve introduced a system of comprehensive audits of commercial agents to ensure that, once licensed, they are meeting the conditions of their licence and are adhering to the Rent Smart Wales Code of Practice as well as any other with legislative requirements incumbent on them. All agents in this category are audited within the five-year period of their licence and a rating is issued to them ranging from urgent action needed to a best practice rating.

These audits are proving to be particularly effective in achieving improvements and agents have told us they find the process useful and informative too. These audits are an important tool as over 50 per cent of the sector is managed by agents, so making sure that the letting agents are operating to standard has a big impact.

Eventually, we want it to be mandatory for agents to display their audit rating, in the same way that establishments that serve food display their food hygiene ratings as a mark of assurance to customers and a method of influencing business behaviour to secure ongoing improvements.

All this is encouraging progress in a relatively short space of time. As one might expect with the establishment of a brand new scheme though, the implementation of Rent Smart Wales has not been without its challenges, not least the scale of the activity leading up to the deadline to register in November 2016.

We’ve learned valuable lessons from that time and independent evaluation of the scheme has also provided useful pointers for improvement and considerable progress.

We continue to work with a range of stakeholders including tenant-facing organisations across Wales to establish a good foundation for improved engagement among private renters while our relationship with the 22 Welsh local authorities has been enhanced so that we now enjoy excellent partnership working arrangements – a key factor to the success of our enforcement activity with non-compliant landlords and agents.

Lessons learned over the past five years have also shaped how we have approached the registration and license renewal procedures for landlords and agents whose five-year term has expired. For a number of weeks now these procedures have been working well and we don’t foresee a repeat of the November 2016 clamour to register and become licensed thanks to the measures we’ve introduced for renewal. These include an early compliance discount for both landlord registration and licensing and a preserved anniversary renewal date so that applicants won’t lose out by applying early.

Other changes for renewal include a new tiered fee structure for agent licences to better reflect the size of an agent’s portfolio so in some cases, this will mean that some agents will pay less for their license this time, compared to the previous fees.

We’ve developed a range of training options for licence renewal providing greater flexibility for learners and recognising that landlords and agents who are re-licensing have previously undertaken training and any further training required should build on this foundation. So options will include a re-licensing course or an approved Continued Professional Development (CPD) course, which allows landlords and agents to choose relevant training tailored to their specific business and individual needs and to learn in far greater detail about specific topics.

Anyone opting for CPD courses will need to complete mandatory core training on essential topics as well as choosing from supplementary learning of their choice in areas such as data protection, equality and diversity, maintaining tenant relations and so on.

We believe this approach will continue to support landlords and agents with the appropriate knowledge, skills and tools to deliver a professional and respected service and as such help deliver the continued improvements that Rent Smart Wales was set up to achieve in private rented accommodation across Wales.


106,265 Registered landlords

48,553 Licensed landlords

5,128 Licensed Agents

214,903 Properties registered

808 Fixed Penalty Notices issued

121 Convictions (£133,161 court fines)

4 Rent Repayment Orders  (£37,143)


The information Rent Smart Wales holds about landlords, agents and properties across Wales provides us with a much better understanding of the private rented sector as we effectively have a comprehensive national database at our fingertips.

Not only is there a strategic benefit to this data, assisting local authorities with their housing duties, but it has also provided us with a simple, effective and timely way to communicate with landlords and agents to advise of changes to legislation and guidance and raise awareness of key issues which prior to the introduction of the scheme would have been impossible.

This has been a particularly important resource during the COVID–19 pandemic when we have been able to support Welsh Government in delivering information to our contacts on the sector-relevant measures that have been introduced over recent months.

Since the start of the crisis, we have regularly communicated with all those on our database with essential information such as the suspension of evictions, support available for tenants, Public Health Wales resources for landlords and agents to share with student tenants and measures affecting the sector during the firebreak lockdown period in the autumn.

We know that these communications have been well received by landlords and agents, with an open-rate of almost 50 per cent demonstrating the value of the information we send. All the guidance and support issued over this period is available in a prominent COVID-19 resource section on our website at www.rentsmart.gov.wales/en/covid19info.

Bethan Jones is operational manager at Cardiff Council – the single licensing authority for Rent Smart Wales. Figures included in this article are correct at end of November 2020. For up to date statistics and more information about Rent Smart Wales, please visit www.rentsmart.gov.wales

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