Slowly, but surely, a letting fees ban is coming

Almost a year after Phillip Hammond announced the Government's intention to banning letting fees, we now have a draft bill before parliament.

Since that announcement, we have had a consultation on the ban, and of course a new government, but it has remained on the legislative agenda thanks to the concerted campaigning of renters across the country.

So what does the bill look like? Crucially, it bans all fees for tenants, leaving no exceptions that could be exploited by agents by massively increasing the amount of one fee.

It also extends transparency measures to third-party websites like Zoopla, meaning that renters should be more easily able to see if their agent is registered with a redress scheme, as is legally required.

However, there are still problems with the bill that need to be dealt with as scrutiny takes place.

Alongside the fees ban, the bill caps the level of deposit a landlord can ask for. The principle is an important one, but the proposal to cap it at 6 weeks' rent is too high; four weeks is well-understood and should be the maximum.

The bill also caps holding deposits at one week's rent, but this poses a further problem. Holding deposits tie a renter to a property (if they decide against it they lose the money) but not the agent, who at any point up to signing the contract can decide to give the money back and go with another tenant. This system is patently unfair and should be ended.

We also need clarity on enforcement of the ban. Tenants could enforce the ban through the County Court or with Trading Standards support but government should also consider statutory compensation for those who have dealt with agents breaking the law.

So what next? The bill is in draft form, meaning it will go through oversight and scrutiny before then being presented again to parliament.

This is a frustrating delay but will hopefully allow us to rectify the issues raised above.

At the same time though, and speculating on timings, we may not see a ban come into force until April 2019, once it has gone through the full parliamentary process.

Given that political instability could cause further upheaval in the legislative agenda, this is surely cause for concern and any measures to speed up the process must be taken. 

The consultation (which saw brilliant engagement from renters, making up half of the responses) was overwhelmingly in favour of a ban, and there is cross-party consensus on this issue.

Coupling it with proper regulation of agents, as the government intends, will make a real difference. But we're all hoping that we don't have to sign another tenancy before the ban becomes law.

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