On 27 July, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office advised British nationals against all but essential international travel, mentioning countries such as Spain in particular. Since then additional countries have been removed from the exemption list such as Belgium, Andorra and The Bahamas, meaning that any British holidaymakers who have already landed in these countries will be required to self-isolate for 14 days on their return to the UK. Based on news reports, it is likely that France could be the next country to be added to the list in the near future.
What relevance does this have to the property industry and estate and lettings agents? Paul Offley, Compliance Officer at The Guild of Property Professionals, says that when agents are going through their health checklist and are asking clients, buyers and tenants their COVID-19 related questions, they will need to ask whether the person has recently returned from one of the countries not on the UK exemption list.
“The list of countries is updated daily, and it is easy for agents to access the information to ensure they know which countries they need to be aware. When agents are going through their health check with clients and potential buyers or tenants, it is important that they extend the questions to include any countries the person may have visited within the past few days,” says Offley.
He adds that if the person has returned from one of the countries that has been flagged, it doesn’t mean that agents cannot deal with that person, it simply means that all interaction should be virtual until after the allotted 14-day self-isolation period has lapsed. “In situations where the person has confirmed that they have returned from one of the listed countries, agents should avoid any face-to-face contact and should conduct virtual valuations and viewings instead. The same applies in the instance of a region lockdown. Agents should stop face-to-face contact immediately and should revert to virtual interaction with clients, buyers and tenants,” Offley advises.
He continues that if an estate or lettings agent has a staff member that has returned from one of the above-mentioned countries, they should be made to work at home. “Estate and lettings agents should be aware of where their staff members are travelling to on holiday to ensure the appropriate procedures are followed on their return to ensure the safety of both other staff members in the office and, of course, the public who visit the office,” says Offley.
“Until COVID-19 is completely eradicated, estate and lettings agents need to ensure that they have the tools and procedures in place to revert back to working from home and conducting their business virtually, whether that be due to travel-related self-isolation or a possible regional lockdown. While the country as a whole may not be put back into lockdown, as we have already seen, the Government is prepared to implement region lockdowns in areas that see increased infection rates. The key is to be ready and have a plan in place should your business need to switch from physical appointments to virtual ones,” Offley concludes.