House of Commons vote on Letting Agent Fees for tenants.

Last night at the House of Commons MP’s voted against a new clause in the Consumer Rights Bill to ban Letting Agent fees to tenants, but it was announced that there would be an amendment compelling Letting Agents to publish a full tariff of all their fees – both on their websites and prominently in their offices. Agents who do not comply with the proposed new amendment will face fines, as yet unspecified.

If all Letting Agents were required to be members of trade bodies such as Propertymark, ARLA and Safe Agent you would know that they are part of a Client Money Protection Scheme, have Professional Indemnity Insurance and a designated client bank account. The accounting procedures and admin required by these schemes would result in most unscrupulous Letting Agents disappearing.

Below is the statement read at Parliament regarding Letting Agent Fees.

Jenny Willott : Most letting agents offer a good service. A blanket ban on fees, as new clause 22 proposes, cannot therefore be the answer to tackle a minority of irresponsible agents. In addition, banning fees will not make it cheaper for tenants, because tenants will just end up paying through higher rents rather than upfront fees. The hon. Member for Walthamstow highlighted the example of Scotland. My understanding is that in the first quarter after the change was introduced rents rose significantly in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and in the year to March rents rose by more in Scotland than in England and in Wales. In fact, the rate of increase in rents was double that in Wales. So it is not quite as simple a picture as the hon. Lady highlighted.

We are already changing the law to require all letting and managing agents to belong to an approved redress scheme, which will give tenants an effective way to make complaints. Last month the Housing Minister approved three redress schemes that all letting and property management agents will be required to join later this year. This will ensure that tenants and leaseholders have a straightforward way of holding their agents to account. The three compulsory schemes, which are the property ombudsman, ombudsman services: property and the property redress scheme, will offer independent investigation of complaints about hidden fees or poor service. Where a complaint is upheld, tenants and leaseholders could get compensation.

We are going further. Today, in a move that ensures a fair deal for landlords and tenants, I am pleased to announce that we will be amending the Bill to require letting agents to publish full details of the fees that they charge. Currently the Advertising Standards Authority requires letting agents only to list charges to the tenant up front in their advertisements. Those letting agents who are found to have imposed hidden charges face little more than being named and shamed on the authority’s website. We want to go further to require all letting agents to publish a full tariff of their fees both on their website and prominently in their offices. Anyone who does not comply with those new rules will face a fine that is a much stricter penalty than currently exists. While every business remains free to set its own fees it has to be transparent, so competition will ensure that letting agents will have to justify those fees to tenants.

Today’s plans add to the work that the Government have already done to offer stronger protections for landlords and tenants in the private rented sector while avoiding excessive regulation, which would force up rents and reduce choice. We intend to review the requirement for greater transparency after 12 months of operation to confirm that it is delivering the expected benefits. If not, the Government will consider whether the proposals need to go further.