Policing the letting fees ban - what we're up to

Apr 10, 2019 1:05 PM

The ban on letting fees is coming – from 1 June, renters in England (including licensees and property guardians as well as tenants) will not have to pay fees for admin, references or inventory to move into a new home. Just the rent and refundable deposits.

This should have a huge impact – not only on renters’ finances, but on their relationship with the landlord and agent too. If the landlord isn’t fixing something or is asking for a higher rent, the tenant is in a stronger negotiating position because it is now cheaper for them to move out instead. Faced with the prospect of a tenantless property, the landlord is more likely to capitulate.

But letting agents are a crafty bunch – their ability to invent fees out of thin air is why we’ve got to this point. And many are willing to break the law – our research on lettingfees.co.uk found that 12% of agents weren’t publishing their fees, in breach of the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Four years on, there are still agents out there who are not publishing fees. If local trading standards officers have been unable to enforce the existing law then there is every chance that some agents will try to find ways around the ban. Some might offer spurious add-ons, and pressurise tenants into paying for them – others could out-and-out ignore the new law and merrily charge fees to tenants who don't know their rights.

But that kind of behaviour could land them with fines of up to £30,000.

For the Tenant Fees Act to work:

  • Renters need to know about the ban, report agents who flout it and claim back illegal fees they have paid
  • Local councils' trading standards officers need to respond to tenants' complaints and use their powers to fine offending agents and recover tenants' money
  • Agents need to see all this happening, so they aren't tempted to rip tenants off

As the only people who will ever be asked to pay illegal fees, renters will play a central role in policing the ban. That means Generation Rent, and other renter organisations, have a role too.

It’s not simply a case of helping tenants recover their money – it’s also about understanding which agents are flouting the law and stopping them from exploiting others.

That’s why we’ve created this simple reporting tool. Right now, we want to hear about letting agents who are breaking existing laws – because they’ll be most likely to charge illegal fees after the ban comes into force.

There are currently three legal obligations on letting agents that are easy to check:

  • Are they publishing their tenant fees? They should have a webpage detailing these, or display them on listings.
  • Are they a member of either the Property Ombudsman or the Property Redress Scheme?
  • Do they protect client money? They must display membership of a CMP scheme on their website.

If they are failing to do one or more of the above, we want to know about it. Please let us know about it in the form on this page.

We will share information about non-compliant agents with local renters’ organisations and/or trading standards authorities as appropriate. Once the ban is in force this information will also help us with mystery shopping and raising public awareness. We’ll post updates about how we get on.

Then, depending on what response we get, we will look at turning this into a more useful tool for that helps renters claim back fees.

If you have suspicions about a letting agent near you, take a look at what information they’re displaying online and let us know of any poor practice here.