Staffing issues hindering work of property regulator

Staffing issues hindering work of property regulator

The Property Services Regulatory Authority (PSRA) has claimed it has had insufficient staff over recent years to process the volume of complaints about auctioneers and estate agents.

A total of 710 complaints against property service providers, which also includes letting and management agents, have been made to the PSRA between its establishment in April 2012 and the end of 2014.

However, just 179 cases have been investigated and completed. In most, the PSRA did not accept the complaint on the basis it did not constitute improper conduct within the meaning of the legislation governing the regulation of the property services industry.

In its annual report for 2014 which has just been published, PSRA chair Geraldine Clarke said it was a significant year in that the authority was provided with additional staff for the first time since its establishment.

Ms Clarke said it enabled the PSRA to make inroads into the investigation and adjudication of complaints against property service providers.

However, she added: “While the provision of additional staff is welcomed, it is not of itself sufficient to enable the authority to process the volume of complaints being received on an annual basis.”

The PSRA has held talks with the Department of Justice and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform about the possibility of outsourcing its investigation work.

Ms Clarke said that the investigation of complaints was one of the PSRA’s main regulatory functions and one which was central to raising and maintaining standards in the industry.

Despite progress, the PSRA chief executive Tom Lynch said much remained to be done to ensure the authority was in a position to fully meet its statutory obligations.

“Significant additional staffing resources will be required,” said Mr Lynch.

He claimed the PSRA had been significantly understaffed since its establishment which has seriously curtailed it meeting its full regulatory responsibilities.

Mr Lynch said the authority’s minimum staffing level was 30. However, only 10 staff had been assigned up to the end of 2013. At the end of 2014, it stood at 14 employees.

The PSRA’s annual report reveals 198 complaints were made about people trading in the property market without a licence.

Prosecutions were brought or are in train in just five cases. The majority of cases were found to relate to people who were licensed or who had ceased trading.

The PSRA has statutory powers to impose sanctions on property services providers for improper conduct, including fines of up to €250,000.

Up to the end of 2014, licences were granted to 6,200 applicants, of which 644 have not been renewed or ceased trading. A total of 714 applications were refused.

However, the PSRA acknowledged that applicants had considerable difficulties in 2012 and 2013 meeting the requirements of the new legislation governing the industry. The PSRA said the position has improved considerably since last year.

However, there is still a problem with the provision of accountants’ reports by applicants, with 137 licence renewals being refused last year because they did not contain a signed declaration by an accountant stating the applicant had in place accounting procedures for the protection of client monies.

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