Lettings research: quality
Ensuring the lettings information recorded is accurate.
Sources of lettings information used by Rent Officers.
Sources of lettings data
There are many different sources of the data which Rent Officers collect and which may become lettings information (LI), and the source is always carefully recorded. This includes categorisation of that source, so that the type of source of the body of LI as a whole can be monitored to ensure that Rent Officers are collecting data from a variety of sources and types of source. This is important so that the overall LI may be demonstrated as representing the range of market activity in the lettings of homes across an area. Without such a variety of sources, it would be more difficult to demonstrate a balanced view of the breadth of lettings which make up local markets.
It is also important to obtain data from a range of sources to ensure the range of types of dwelling and geographical areas with letting activity are as fully represented as possible in the body of LI held by the Rent Officer. A limited range of sources could present a risk of bias, because the LI may not reflect the whole Private Rented Sector, which could potentially skew any determination or valuation based upon it.
Examples of sources
Whilst it is not exhaustive, some examples of sources of LI may include;
Private landlords – Private landlords are often accessed through landlord forums or through the Rent Officer’s routine work such as inspections of dwellings. Also contacts may be made through small landlords associations. This group can be broken down into 2 segments:
Corporate landlords/organisations: including large investment groups, corporate property management businesses and large land owners. This category also includes “professional landlords”; generally those individuals for whom property is their primary source of income. The agreed portfolio size for a landlord to be a professional landlord is 20 lettings.
Small portfolio landlord: (Less than 20 lettings) where property is not the landlord’s primary source of income.
Estate agents and Letting agents – Estate agents and letting agents are usually the largest single source of lettings data. Many high streets contain a number of agents including some independent and some large national chains. Rent Officers should identify these sources and make themselves known to all agents in their area.
Landlords of Rent Act tenancies – Landlords of Rent Act tenancies may be able to provide information about lettings of other properties they have in their portfolio which are let on current assured short-hold tenancies.
Tenant associations – Private tenants’ associations may be able to provide specific rental information about current lettings.
University and college accommodation officers – Universities and colleges can be a good source of rental information, especially for rooms. Rent Officers should contact the accommodation officer to obtain details of private landlords that they deal with. Educational establishments may also rarely provide details of actual lettings themselves.
Housing Associations and Local Authorities – Local authorities and housing associations may let properties at market rents on assured tenancies outside of their usual core work. Care must be taken by the Rent Officer to ensure any such letting is truly an open market letting and not, for example, a points based letting, or a letting open only to a limited category of tenants.
Informal sources of lettings evidence – Friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances can often supply information about lettings, which must be investigated and confirmed.
National sources of lettings information – Rent Officer teams are working with various large landlords and associations to collect lettings information centrally rather than by the individual Rent Officers working in a local area.
Rent Officers working in local areas should be aware of the local lettings market through their contacts with some of the above sources, and this may inform their pursuit of different types of sources in order to obtain a balanced view of overall local lettings activity.
Categorisation of sources
When recording LI on the VIS database, Rent Officers are asked to categorise the source type using a drop-down list. This consists of the following options;
Advertisements – from newspapers, notice boards, shop windows, internet rooms and other websites. (This option doesn’t enable the Source name box.) This option is rarely used because the preference is for confirmed actual lettings data.
Corporate landlords/organisations – as described above including professional landlords.
Educational establishment – LI direct from universities and colleges but not Halls of Residence (this option does not enable the Source name box).
HB department / claimant Info – HB departments’ records of failed HB claims; or where Rent Officers’ investigations have revealed that the tenant was paying out of their own resources for at least 3 months before claiming HB (this option does not enable the Source name box).
Letting Agent – which is self-explanatory.
Small portfolio landlord – with less than 20 lettings.
Social landlord – which is the LA or Housing Association source and which can only be used after thorough enquiry confirms the letting is at an open market rent (this option does not enable the Source name box).
Tenant – which is self-explanatory (this choice does not enable the Source name box).
It is important to accurately record the source type for effective analysis to be enabled and therefore to ensure a representative sample of the local PRS is recorded and maintained.
Some letting agents and larger landlords such as investment companies, management companies and national chains of estate agents may prefer to provide their lettings data centrally and on a national basis. This provides Rent Officers with consistency in the standards and quality of data, because assurances can be given about the quality of properties which are let, and therefore Rent Officers can confidently make assumptions about the information provided.
Where data is provided centrally in this way, the Central Support Team carries out quality assurance on the data before it is added to VIS. Where local Rent Officers have a high street presence in their areas for such sources, it will often be appropriate to maintain local contact in order to discuss any local market issues and concerns, and to maintain professional relationships and local market intelligence, but not to collect actual lettings data.
- Student lettings
- Pre-tenancy determinations
- Quality of lettings information
- Market intelligence
Information about the operation of the lettings market.
What is market intelligence?
Market intelligence is the name Rent Officers give to pieces of information, which they may obtain from a variety of sources, which help to inform them about how the lettings market operates in the private rented sector for residential accommodation in an area. It may be information about a new development being built to let, which will affect the local supply of a particular type of property. It may be information about a local employer taking on new staff which may affect the demand for accommodation in a local market. Market intelligence is any piece of information which helps the Rent Officer gain an overall picture of the operation of the local lettings market.
Market intelligence is different from Lettings Information. MI provides a wider understanding of the operation of the lettings market, rather than being information about specific lettings. MI provides an overview of supply and demand for rented residential accommodation, either overall or possibly about specific types of accommodation.
Sources of MI
Sources of market intelligence may include fellow property professionals such as letting agents or landlords, but the nature and variety of market intelligence is such that sources of MI may also include Local Authorities planning departments, housing departments, local press, web sites, and even observations when travelling around an area, such as observation of sites being developed or building work and refurbishment, etc.
Rent Officer activity
Rent Officers operating across a particular area will develop a knowledge of that area, both in terms of specific lettings, and in terms of the types of property which let quickly and those which take longer to let, the neighbourhoods where there is high demand, and those which are less desirable, etc.
Rent Officers gain such overviews of the lettings market by ensuring they maintain a watching brief on their area, and this is achieved by engaging in professional conversations with trusted sources of both LI and MI. Through such professional contacts, and by asking the right questions and recording the information provided, Rent Officers are able to get an overview of local lettings markets. By developing such contacts, and by knowing the questions to ask and using their judgement to determine how far to push for information, Rent Officers can ensure their knowledge of local markets is maintained.
Once market intelligence is captured and an overview of the market is gained, it is vital that such information is recorded so it may be shared with colleagues. The consistent method Rent Officers use to record such information is in the monthly reports produced by Rent Officers in relation to their LI collection. This provides the background, context and commentary to the LI itself. This may include direct quotes from sources of lettings and market information. MI may also be recorded in meeting minutes such as RO team meetings or meetings where Local Reference Rents are discussed and determined.
- Data sources
- Local reference rents
Quality assurance - minimum data standards
Minimum information needed by the Rent Officer.
Minimum data standards
In order to be considered as good quality confirmed lettings information, LI has to meet certain minimum data standards. There are certain minimum pieces of information without which we would not be able to identify the actual letting, but other additional items of data which may make the LI more useful, or suitable for a wider range of rent officer uses.
Clearly minimum data must include the achieved passing rent and the type of dwelling, its size, and the location of the letting. However, being informed that a landlord has let a three bedroom house in a certain town at a certain rent is still insufficient information to be of real use to the rent officer in his/her statutory functions.
To be used as a comparable letting for a specific property valuation, the more detailed information is obtained the better. When seeking a comparable, the more similar a letting is the more comparable it may be, so as many property and letting attributes as possible should be recorded. The more information is recorded, the more types of determination the item of LI may be used for.
To be used for the List of Rents used to determine Local Housing Allowances, the number of bedrooms must be recorded. To be used to help determine Local Reference Rents, the number of living rooms must also be recorded. To be used for the data extracts for the Office for National Statistics the tenancy start date must be recorded.
Minimum information to be recorded
All items of LI must include the passing rent and the address, along with the property type and the number of bedrooms. Rent officers must also record other details such as the number of living rooms, and any other value significant information. Depending on the location this may include whether there is any off street parking included in the letting, any services under the tenancy, any furniture which may be provided, or whether there is central heating or double glazing. The LI should also include the tenancy start date, and the address must include the post code and the door number or house name. The below table shows how the data is used for the various functions.
|Address with post code||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|Number living rooms||✔||✔|
|Ineligible services including leisure elements etc.||✔||✔||✔|
|Central heating, double glazing||✔|
|Off street parking, etc.||✔|
|Any other value significant factor||✔|
Secure data transfer
Where data is collected from central sources under the secure data transfer service, there are certain pre-agreed standards, which allow certain assumptions to be made by the rent officer. These include that all the properties let by a particular source are always let with carpets curtains and white goods, always centrally heated and always double glazed, for example.
For data collected locally by rent officer teams, there are rigorous quality assurance standards which must be met in order for rent officers and others to be assured of the quality of the information held in the LI database.
The rent officer takes great care when collecting information to ask the right questions and accurately record the information provided. It is through such collection behaviours and the development of professional relationships engendering trust that the best detailed quality information may be obtained. Tenancy commencement dates and tenancy terms are recorded so that renewal information may be obtained at the next contact with the source in question. Rent officers then record the LI and use remarks to comment where there is an unusual letting such as a particularly high rent, or uncommon property or letting arrangement.
Rent officers understand the need for stringent quality standards, because inaccurate data may result in an inaccurate determination of rent or housing benefit, or even an inaccuracy in the Consumer Prices Index, upon which so many other things are based such as taxes and other benefits.
Central Support Team checks through the data monthly to draw out unusual items which require explanation or to identify apparent duplicate entries for the same letting. These are reported back to teams to address, and if they are not properly addressed and resolved then they are deleted.
If a team manager finds that data needs deleting the MED_ID needs to be added to the deletion request list spreadsheet found in the shared drive for CST to arrange deletion with the Digital Group (operational staff are unable to delete LI themselves).
Hard copy Data quality checks
As well as checking the integrity of the rent officer’s visit to the data source, managers check a sample of entries to match the LI input against the paper record used during collection to ensure accuracy. From the data used to complete the Quarterly QA for each RO, a number of agents are selected to do a full hard copy check. If any errors are found they are notified to the RO to make corrections. If no hard copy can be found for a piece of LI entered, a security incident must be raised within 2 working days. (See Data Security below.)
This audit includes managers checking the RO notation on the hard copy records (which were used as a basis for discussion with the data source to obtain any missing fields needed). When a manager checks (or an external audit check is made) the hard copy must fully match the details of the VIS entry. If hard copy details cannot be found to match the VIS record then either the record may have to be deleted, or a security incident raised, or both. If in doubt, managers should seek guidance.
Data Entry and Storage
Rent Officers should enter data within 5 weeks of collection. The hard copy front sheet should be completed for all letting agent data with the contact names and entry and filing date completed. Lettings data must also be filed in a secure cabinet in the office within 6 weeks of collection. RO’s should report to their managers if they are likely to exceed either of these deadlines. Managers are required to conduct the audit 6 weeks after the last selected visit.
The principles and details of the Data Protection Act are very strictly followed by rent officers and addresses from the LI database are never shared. This includes with other parts of the VOA. The uses for which the data was collected are to help inform rent officer determinations, and the LI is retained and used only for these purposes, and safely disposed of when it is no longer needed for these specific purposes.
- Local Housing Allowances
- Local reference rents
- Quality of LI
- Information retention
Quality assurance - quality of lettings information
Systems in place to demonstrate that the lettings information recorded is accurate.
The difference between data and information is that data is raw and unprocessed whereas information has been enhanced to become more informative or to serve a certain purpose.
Lettings information is data which has been enhanced to record and reflect the activity of landlords and tenants in the open market in relation to the letting and renting of private residential accommodation. When Rent Officers refer to lettings information (LI) they are talking about information which has been carefully collected, rigorously quality assured and accurately recorded on a database. This LI database may then be interrogated and the information may be used for various Rent Officer functions. Data extracts may also be used, for example by the Office for National Statistics to help determine Consumer Prices Indices.
As part of the collection process, Rent Officers ensure that the LI is based on data about lettings which are not subject to any subsidies or premiums, and are not restricted to a limited market. They represent rents which are being paid, rather than the advertised amount which the landlord was hoping to obtain. This is referred to as ‘confirmed’ data.
Rents which are not confirmed are referred to as ‘supporting’ data, and are rarely recorded. Rent Officers would only consider using supporting data for sectors or areas of the market for which it proves very difficult to obtain confirmed data, and they would discuss it with line management before recording any such supporting information. (See Supporting Information below.)
Uses for lettings information
Rent Officers carry out statutory functions which require reference to LI. These include rent valuations under the Rent Acts, which require comparable open market rents as a starting point for the process of registering rents. Also the determination of open market rents under the Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions) Order 1997 as amended, for claims made under Housing Benefit legislation. This includes the determination of Local Housing Allowance rates, which is also used to help determine Universal Credit, for which the Rent Officer has to compile a List of Rents, which is an output from the Lettings Information database.
Raw data from the database, rather than lists of addresses and rents, are shared with the Office for National Statistics, and these outputs are used to help determine Retail and Consumer Prices Indices.
In order to support all these uses to which the data is put, quality is put at the centre of all Rent Officer activity in relation to LI. Quality Assurance activities and Rent Officer practices help to ensure that Rent Officers continue to meet these exacting requirements.
Definition of quality
High quality data is data which the Rent Officer has determined is accurate and comes from a reliable source, often involving seeing copies of documents confirming that the rent is passing at the level reported for the dwelling concerned. The Rent Officer must satisfy themselves that the information represents an actual letting.
Accurate and detailed information including the passing rent under the tenancy helps ensure the quality of Rent Officers’ LI is maintained, but the passing rent is meaningless unless Rent Officers also collect detailed property attributes of the dwelling and information about the terms of the tenancy.
Property attributes clearly include basic property description details, such as type of dwelling, number and type of rooms, whether the dwelling is centrally heated, whether the letting includes any other property such as a garden, a garage, or any other car parking space, and any other ‘value significant’ information.
Tenancy information includes the terms of the tenancy, such as that the tenancy is an Assured Shorthold Tenancy let on standard terms, and also the tenancy start date and length of the term. It may also include whether and what services may be included under the tenancy, and any other tenancy terms which may be ‘value significant’.
‘Value significant’ information is any item of information about the letting which has an effect on the rental value, which is the amount of rent which the landlord may be able to obtain.
In order to monitor the market it is helpful to know how a property lets over time, such as whether the landlord chooses to retain a good tenant and keep the rent at a certain level, or instead whether they prefer to take the opportunity to re-let the property at a raised rent, if the market supports an increased rent. The only way to obtain such information is to collect what Rent Officers refer to as ‘renewal information’.
Renewal information is sought by means of Rent Officers approaching the source of the original data at a time known to be beyond the length of the original term of the tenancy, and asking about the nature of any re-letting. Renewals data is particularly helpful to the Office for National Statistics in their analysis of prices and price movements over time.
Local Authority areas
Rent Officers analyse the housing market and seek to collect a representative quantity of the lettings data available. The geographical areas which are used to carry this analysis out are Local Authority areas. If the lettings market is represented within Rent Officers’ data across an LA area then Rent Officers may be confident of the overall database being representative of the overall lettings market.
Some sectors of the lettings market may be more difficult to obtain data for than others, and in certain instances, managers may allow Rent Officers to record supporting lettings information, which is LI with certain information missing, such as being an advertised rent which has not been confirmed as let, or being an incomplete address with no door number or post code.
It is rarely appropriate to record such information. Rent Officers would only consider doing so after discussion with line management, and where it is the only information available. This is because there are severe limitations to the way such information may be used.
As such Rent Officers are encouraged to carry out validation and enhancement of such data and to record it only after it has been confirmed, by the Rent Officer finding ways to fill the information gaps through further research or contact with the original or another source.
- fair rent – determination pages
- Housing Benefit referral – determination pages
- Local Housing Allowance – all pages
- Quality assurance – minimum data standards
- Data sources and categorisation