What is the Unipol/AfS Code of Standards?
Summary of the Code
The Unipol/AfS Code:
- sets a number of specific professional standards for off-street properties for shared student living and their management
- covers all off-street properties (including flats) with up to 14 occupants in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and is consistent with the legal and regulatory requirements in those countries
- is a scheme which landlords and managing agents voluntarily join and in doing so commit themselves to maintaining these standards for their accommodation and their accommodation management
- establishes a national accreditation framework to help consumers make more informed choices about accommodation and its quality
- provides landlords and their tenants with a set of transparent undertakings about how they are going to do business with one another
- operates a standards verification system, allied to a mandatory skills-based training package, to ensure that those volunteering to meet the standards do so
- enables landlords to show that they follow nationally recognised professional standards of service, and to badge properties covered by the Code accordingly
- reduces misunderstandings and disputes
- maintains a simple, inclusive, transparent, rapid and publicised complaints and Tribunal system
- enables parties to enjoy the benefits of good standards of housing management and practice
Larger properties housing 15 or more occupants fall under the existing ANUK/Unipol National Code and can be accredited separately under that scheme. Click here to be re-directed to the National Codes website.
Background on the web-based sector for property letting
Poor record on quality checking
There has, for some time, been concern amongst the customer base and within the sector about students using national websites that have no form of quality control on them at all. As a direct result some online property search engines which operate throughout the private rented sector (not just in the student area) have been prey to poor quality and in some cases fraud.
The national patchwork of accreditation and licensing arrangements: confusion for the consumer
Some landlords have access to a local accreditation scheme, although many do not. Some landlords are members of landlord organisations or a regional scheme where they can be accredited. Landlords in Scotland and Wales also meet higher regulatory standards. The problem with these schemes is that it is difficult to use them to undertake national marketing because they are frequently different and few consumers immediately outside the areas they cover know what they are or what they mean. Indeed, many local or landlord-based schemes are, at best, very limited in what assurances they offer students. Similarly, local authorities operate with minimum regulatory standards which offer few assurances about management quality and they run their regulatory standards and inspections in very different ways around the country.
The Unipol/AfS Code
Students and parents are therefore confronted with the risk of buying poor quality and the difficulty of working out the value of local accreditation because of strong variance in standards across the country.
In response to this challenge the Unipol/AfS Code provides a national accreditation framework which places at the heart of the web-based letting market both rigorous quality checking and a ‘currency' of standards meaningful to the consumer.
On quality, the Unipol/AfS Code gives reassurance to students and parents about the ownership and quality of properties that they can rent online. Specifically, the Code offers protection for the consumer by ensuring that:
- accredited (or Code) landlords have a level of management skills that means they are competent and professional managers
- property and management standards are checked through a system of independent professional verification which entails visiting and inspecting sample properties
On the issue of the Code's ‘currency', its standards are consistent with regulatory regimes across all local authorities and countries (including Scotland and Northern Ireland) and takes into account that some landlords are already accredited in local or national schemes. So landlords are not being asked to meet standards that are contradictory.
Where an existing scheme is doing good work, this is recognised in the application process and fee-charging regime for the Unipol/AfS Code. Where additional regulation has been applied (particularly in Scotland and Wales) which raises regulated properties to the accredited standard then those properties are also recognised as meeting this quality threshold.
As the secretariat for ANUK, Unipol grades schemes it knows about so that there is no duplication of effort. Those landlords and agents within existing accreditation schemes can be ‘passported' into the AfS Unipol scheme, and, depending on what type of scheme they are in, they should receive a discount on the fee for joining the AfS/Unipol Code. For the Code's schedule of fees, including discounting click here .
The AfS/Unipol Code has been carefully constructed to be consistent with all national guidance, existing Government approved national schemes for larger developments and the Accreditation Network UK's (ANUK) model code and its recommended four core values of: declaration, verification, continual improvement and a complaints system.
The Code concentrates on management standards (sometimes reflected in the physical management of the property) and the fire standards are based on the LACORS fire guidance. There should be no inconsistency with the standards being required by any local codes and this National Code so landlords are not being asked to meet standards that are contradictory.
The standards chosen for the Code reflect a balance of common sense obligations and responsibilities between landlords and tenants. They are based on what an average student and their parents would expect of a good quality landlord. The standards are supported by the voice of students themselves through the National Union of Students.
Notwithstanding their focus on best practice, the Code standards have been designed to be achievable by landlords without significant expenditure of time and money.
The Code requirements are a combination of
- standards established in law
- ‘good practice' guidelines
- procedures to reduce misunderstandings between landlords and tenants
The Codes set standards in a number of categories:
- equality and diversity
- during the tenancy
- health and safety
- the environment and sustainability
- community relations
- at the end of the tenancy
- disputes and complaints
Click here to view the Code document.