May 25th 2018 will probably be a largely unremarkable day - everyone will be looking forward to the long weekend provided by the Spring Bank Holiday on the 28th, and we’ll probably just be getting into World Cup fever, with the competition due to begin in the middle of June. Lettings agents should be fully prepared for its arrival, though, because it will be bringing the new General Data Protection Regulations along for the ride.
What is the GDPR?
The regulations (GDPR) will be implemented in the UK and across Europe regardless of what happens with Brexit. It strengthens the rights that individuals have regarding the way their personal data is managed by placing greater emphasis on the responsibilities of data controllers, who will now be more compelled to demonstrate their accountability.
Why is it a problem for letting agencies?
While this is undoubtedly a beneficial move for the individual, it presents several problems for letting agents, not least in terms of their ability to stay compliant. The “right to be forgotten” has been replaced by the “right to erasure” in these regulations, meaning that controllers will be compelled to delete individuals’ data from their data management systems once the data has served the purpose it has been collected for (for instance, if a customer successfully rents a property).
This will make marketing much more difficult, because marketing to an individual will only be allowed if they have specifically opted in to receive that marketing information - it will therefore be much more difficult to find new landlords in this way. With the Tenant Fees Bill coming in next year as well and sure to limit revenue streams, this is not ideal news.
Additionally, if staff don’t comply with the regulations through not knowing what they are, the agency as a whole will be penalised and could face significant fines. The process will begin with first contact - at this point, agencies will need to get them to verbally agree to specific use of their data, such as whether they would permit notifications about new homes coming onto the market. If they do not agree, they cannot be asked again. Every member of staff will have to know about this when they begin talking to a prospect.
Invest in training
With this in mind, agencies should ensure that they spend the first quarter of 2018 ensuring that they are fully prepared for the introduction of the GDPR - while every member of staff should be aware of them, existing data controllers will need more in-depth training so they can efficiently manage data using the correct procedures. There are training courses, both off and online, available throughout the UK - while this is an expense you might not want to make, it will be much more costly to make a compliance-related error and receive a fine.
For more of our thoughts about what some of the key industry developments next year could be, you can still download our free eBook, entitled What to Expect From the Lettings Industry in 2018, by clicking below.