The journey - a 25 year history of renting in the UK - Total Landlord Insurance

March 31, 2021
Total Landlord Insurance
The journey - a 25 year history of renting in the UK - Total Landlord Insurance

2021 marks a significant milestone for Hamilton Fraser. Initially created as a niche insurance broker in 1996, this year the company celebrates 25 years of continuous operation.

The launch of Hamilton Fraser Total Landlord Insurance in 1996 established Hamilton Fraser as an innovator in the private rented sector, and that’s been the case ever since. From being at the forefront of the tenancy deposit scheme in 2007 with Tenancy Deposit Solutions Ltd, to the recent launch of Ome, a deposit replacement product, Hamilton Fraser has not only responded to the ever-changing sector, but has been an ever-present name that has helped shape it.

With more than 200 staff that look after in excess of 500,000 individual customers, Hamilton Fraser has ridden the waves of the ever-changing private rented sector and has grown to become one of the key names within it.

The following charts the rental sector from its beginnings in the 13th century, focusing on the 20th and 21st centuries and the part that Hamilton Fraser and its partners have played in making the private rented sector the exciting, dynamic and professional industry it is today.

The evolution of the rental market

Serf’s up!

The signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 saw the first statutory rules on human and property rights in England. Before this a King – lords – knights – tenants feudal pyramid system existed, which was open to extortion and abuse.

That statute of Quia Emptores 75 years later allowed the purchase and sale of land for the first time, the legal principles of which amazingly still regulate the transfer of land in England and Wales today.

The changing face of renting in the 20th Century

Fast forward 600 years to before WW1 and most people in Britain – around 90 per cent – rent their homes. But this was soon to radically change, with a trend of decline in private renting throughout most of the 20th century. Social policy shifts, and legislation such as security of tenure and rent controls in England and Wales meant that returns were low for landlords, renting was seen as a poor risk and letting residential property became increasingly unpopular.

Anti-landlord sentiment was rife and was exacerbated in the 1960s by the notoriety and scandals of Peter Rachman and others, with “Rachmanism” entering the English language as a term used to describe the activities of ruthless slum landlords, and their exploitation of hapless tenants.

By 1991 only seven per cent of the British population privately rented their homes.

The Housing Acts of change

Thatcher’s Conservative government sought to revamp the rented sector through the 1988 Housing Act, and this was followed eight years later by the 1996 Housing Act.

These Acts removed rent control, allowed private landlords to let at market rates and, through the introduction of the assured shorthold tenancy agreement in the 1988 Act, provided a mechanism for landlords to get their property back if needed.

Investment returns became economically viable again, encouraging homeowners, small landlords and investors to enter the lettings market.

These legislative changes in England and Wales coincided with shifts in population demographics and people wanting a modern lifestyle began to favour renting for its flexibility.

Here comes professionalism

But with the opening up of the sector to many first-time landlords it became apparent that being a landlord still carried a measure of risk and insecurity. With no dedicated insurance for those renting out properties until October 1996, if a landlord wanted to insure their let property, they had to purchase a standard homeowners insurance policy and hope that their mortgage lender didn’t find out. And if a tenant was injured due to an issue with the property there was no liability cover!

In 1996, Hamilton Fraser began its journey as a niche insurance broker set up by Eddie Hooker (CEO), Simon Fox (Shareholder), and David Jacobs (Financial Director) to serve the emerging needs of the private rented and aesthetics sectors.

Recognising this industry opportunity, Hamilton Fraser launched Total Landlord Insurance, one of the first dedicated insurance products for landlords in the UK and still one of our central services.

This provided landlords with comprehensive cover and peace of mind should the worst happen.

Hamilton Fraser Total Landlord Insurance helped pave the way for the professionally recognised ‘buy to let’ sector of today, establishing the Hamilton Fraser name in the market and helping landlords to protect the things that mattered most.

The buy to let boom

In 1999, a free open access website for landlords and agents is founded by established landlord, Tom Entwistle. LandlordZONE provides expert advice and guidance to the landlord community, including a (very busy!) discussion forum.

In the same year Landlord Action, one of the UK’s best-known eviction and housing law specialists, is founded by Paul Shamplina. It offers landlords a professional and legal route to stage legal evictions.

A pivotal point for the property sector

The principle of landlords taking a security deposit has been ingrained in the private rented sector for more than 300 years, but the Housing Act 2004 was a turning point for the private rented sector, as well as for Hamilton Fraser.

The act brought in a wide-ranging piece of legislation that was pivotal to the modernisation of the sector. It contained provision to create security for the tenant’s deposit in the form of tenancy deposit protection (TDP). Research undertaken by the Government and tenant focused organisations, had shown that some 20 per cent of tenants’ deposits had been unfairly or unreasonably withheld by landlords, often with no explanation.

This new piece of legislation would create a legal requirement for all landlords to protect their tenants’ deposits in authorised tenancy deposit protection schemes. The schemes would also be required to make binding decisions in the event of a dispute over who was entitled to the deposit at the end of the tenancy.

At the time, there was no ‘blue-print’ for creating a tenancy deposit protection scheme anywhere in the world other than in Australia, and the only existing scheme in the UK was a competitor’s custodial only model. Insurance backed tenancy deposit protection didn’t exist, but would offer real benefit for landlords and agents, who would be able to hold on to the deposit themselves. Hamilton Fraser and the National Landlords Association (NLA) together successfully persuaded the Government that there was a need for both schemes in the market.

The future of tenancy deposit protection is decided

In 2006, 18 months after discussions began, Hamilton Fraser and the NLA submitted a joint bid to the Government under the then named, Tenancy Deposit Solutions Ltd.

The tenancy deposit protection contract for England and Wales is awarded to Tenancy Deposit Solutions Ltd by the Government. It is one of only three contracts awarded, along with TDS (Tenancy Deposit Scheme) and DPS (Deposit Protection Service). All three services are still in operation today.

The modern private rented sector begins

Tenancy Deposit Solutions Ltd is launched in 2007, representing a key turning point not only in Hamilton Fraser’s history but the sector too. Landlords, tenants and agents finally had security and protection within the sector.

For Hamilton Fraser, this provided vital experience in bidding for and operating public sector contracts.

Something which would be further developed over the years.

“Winning mydeposits was the proudest moment of my professional life in 2007”

– Eddie Hooker, Hamilton Fraser CEO


The slump in the American housing market due to the sub-prime debacle combined with rising interest rates in 2008-09 caused huge numbers of property repossessions, leading to a global financial shockwave. In the UK, the banks stopped lending to one another, causing a ‘credit crunch’, meaning landlords suddenly found it much more difficult to get a buy to let mortgage.

To avoid a recession the Bank of England dropped interest rates, reducing the value of residential property, which plunged many landlords into a negative equity situation. Some landlords were forced to sell at a loss, although increased redundancies and less rental stock saw increased demand for rental properties, which in turn forced rent prices up.

In some places house prices are still below pre-crash levels.

Tenancy deposit protection goes regional

In 2009, TDSL was renamed as mydeposits to differentiate the business and avoid confusion with the other schemes, the TDS and DPS.

Despite tenancy deposit protection legislation coming into force in England and Wales in 2007, it took some time for the other regions to follow suit.

In 2011, the Scottish Government announced their desire to implement custodial only tenancy deposit protection in 2012. With a proven track record in England and Wales, Hamilton Fraser successfully secures a custodial scheme for Scotland.

Just a year later in 2012, Hamilton Fraser also secures a contract in Northern Ireland to operate an insurance and custodial tenancy deposit protection scheme.

Redress, regulation and reform

2013 was a big year for regulation and reform within the private rented sector. In this year,

Landlord Action became the UK’s first regulated fixed fee eviction service, meaning landlords could be confident that the service was regulated by law, as well as by those who understand the complexities of the property industry.

In 2014, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 was passed, which included a requirement for letting agents in England to be a member of an approved redress scheme.

Prior to this the private rented sector lettings industry was very much unregulated, making it difficult for landlords and tenants to make formal complaints against their letting agent, even though their estate agency counterparts had already had mandatory redress in place for years.

In the same year, Hamilton Fraser secured a contract from the Government to launch the Property Redress Scheme (PRS) – a consumer redress scheme providing an independent and impartial service that considers consumer complaints about a variety of property related issues.

As of 2021, it is the largest redress scheme in the UK for letting agents.

The HFIS group expands

In 2015, the States of Jersey, part of the Channel Islands, made the decision to launch a custodial tenancy deposit protection scheme on the island. Later that year, mydeposits Jersey won the only awarded TDP scheme in the States of Jersey.

Having secured a contract to operate a deposit protection scheme in the four available territories (England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Jersey) and fresh from securing the Property Redress Scheme contract, Hamilton Fraser turned its attention to anticipating the next possible regulatory move by the UK Government.

Since 2007, authorised deposit protection schemes had been concerned that they were increasingly exposed to the risk of misappropriation incidents by letting agent members, especially in the insurance-backed schemes.

Whilst misappropriation claims were relatively rare, the impact of the financial crash of 2008 and the following years of austerity started to concern stakeholders in the lettings sector, in particular tenant focused organisations.

Lack of affordable housing coupled with stagnant wages and a risk averse banking sector, was pushing more and more families into rented accommodation, placing further strain on the private landlord market that was expected to plug the housing gap. Rents across the country were rising as demand outstripped supply, in some areas by four to one.

Lettings was a growth sector and, due to low entry barriers, such as the lack of formal regulation and no qualification requirement, letting agents started to pop up everywhere. It would not be long before the Government tried to address these risks with the introduction of formal regulation.

Client money protection was not a new concept. Many other sectors that held client monies had regulatory protection schemes in place. For example, the travel sector with their ABTA and ATOL protection. In fact, client money protection for the estate agent sector was already mandatory, much like redress.

In 2016, Hamilton Fraser launched Client Money Protect (CMP). The UK’s first client money protection scheme that did not require the agent to be a member of a trade body to join. It wasn’t until 2018 however, that the Government sought the procurement of formal client money protection schemes.

In April 2019, Hamilton Fraser’s Client Money Protect secured a client money protection contract from the Government, alongside several other industry providers. It is now the largest CMP scheme in England and Wales by membership, with 4,000 member agents. This legislation made it a legal obligation for agents to have client money protection in place.

Later in 2019, LandlordZONE joins the Hamilton Fraser family. Keeping landlords up to date with breaking news for the sector, it is the only dedicated news site for landlords in the UK with readership increasing to 2,000,000 annual views during the 2020 pandemic.

The Tenant Fees Act

On 1 June 2019 The Tenant Fees Act (2019) came into force, setting out the Government’s approach to banning fees paid by tenants in the private rented sector, as well as capping tenancy deposits in England.

It also stated that deposit replacements are an acceptable alternative to a traditional security deposit, as long as the tenant is given a choice between the two. This signified a significant shift and showed a commitment to responding to the changing nature of the market.

Protecting the things that matter most

The COVID-19 pandemic threw an almighty curve ball into private rented sector plans in 2020. The industry has never in its history experienced such a monumental and disruptive event. But despite the initial restrictions to the buy to let market in early 2020, the private rented sector was relatively quick to adapt and overcome the challenges.

In March 2020, the Government introduced a radical package of measures to protect tenants and landlords affected by COVID-19, including eviction suspensions, no possession proceedings and mortgage payment holidays.

For Hamilton Fraser, the pandemic was not enough to stop continued growth in the sector. In early 2020, HF Assist was launched as an easy-to-use legal helpline for letting agents and property managers, offering complementary resources, templates, a counselling service and legal expenses cover provided by experts in the sector.

Also in response to the pandemic, in April 2020, the Property Redress Scheme brought forward the launch of its PRS tenancy mediation service to support landlords and tenants struggling with the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to settle end of tenancy disputes amicably without needing to go to court.

At the same time, Hamilton Fraser launched Ome, a subscription-based deposit replacement scheme helping to provide greater choice within the rental market, after recognising the growing need for deposit flexibility and transparency in the sector for both tenants and their landlords.

2020 was a milestone year for private rented sector development and unprecedented change.

The journey continues

The private rented sector has faced many changes and challenges over the last 25 years, and the journey is far from over.

Monumental milestones include the introduction of tenancy deposit protection, with some 4.5 million deposits now being protected across the three government approved providers, letting agent redress, client money protection, legislation such as the Tenant Fee Act (2019), electrical safety and fitness for human habitation.

In addition, tenancy deposit legislation has been a huge success, improving transparency and communication between landlords, agents and their tenants and helping to reduce dispute levels from pre-TDP levels of 20 per cent to under three per cent.

The Government is also currently looking at reforming the sector for the future, focusing on enhancing renters’ security, not least through the proposed Renters’ Reform Bill, which includes measures to abolish Section 21 rights and the introduction of a so-called ‘Lifetime Deposit’.

Plans to implement the Bill have been delayed due to COVID, but other changes include an update to the Government’s model tenancy agreement (from 29 January 2021) to set the default position for responsible tenants to keep well-behaved pets, and from 1 April 2021 landlords will be required by law to ensure that a property’s electrical system and any supplied electrical appliances are safe throughout the tenancy, for both new and existing tenancies.

Throughout these milestones, Hamilton Fraser has been at the forefront of change, pioneering increased industry standards that contribute to a harmonious, fair and transparent private rented sector.

“The biggest privilege is to be a big part of the evolution” – Eddie Hooker, CEO of HFIS

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