Protesters outside the offices of Newham Council in London

Activists keep close eye on agents ahead of letting fees ban

Community union Acorn will be holding demonstrations outside letting agency offices across the country to celebrate the ban.
30 May 2019 , Katie Coyne

Renters’ unions are ramping up action in the run-up to the letting fees ban that comes into force on Saturday 1 June.

Community union Acorn has said it will be holding demonstrations, including pickets and parties, outside letting agency offices across the country to celebrate the ban and also to ‘put letting agents on notice”’

In Brighton, protestors will be marching up the high street on Lewis Road and visiting letting agents to ask them to sign the pledge to honour the spirit of the letting fees ban and agree not to mislead tenants or use loopholes.

In Manchester a cycle tour of agents is planned and in Newcastle union members will be mystery shopping to make sure agents are complying – if they are, protestors will bring a party to them but if they’re not, union members will cordon off their offices with crime tape.

Nick Ballard, Acorn national organiser, said: “While we’ll be celebrating the introduction of the ban, we’re also well aware that many letting agents will break the law and try to continue charging fees.

“For this reason we’ll be taking nationwide action on 1 June to make sure letting agents know that we’ll be watching them closely and that we won’t stand for this behaviour.”

In Scotland in 2012, Ballard said, a similar ban was brought in. However, the Scottish tenants' union Living Rent has said this ban was not enforced and only action taken by the union stopped agents illegally charging.

This has been borne out by research from Generation Rent (GR), which has found that letting agents are actively searching out loopholes to the ban, and are already flouting rules in place around the display of fees.

GR has set up a ‘Letting Agent Detective’ team where tenants can report agents falling foul of the regulations.

The GR team found evidence of agents pressurising existing tenants to renew their contracts before 1 June so the agent could get round the ban. One agent was reported as telling a prospective tenant that the ban was like Brexit in that it was being delayed and probably wouldn’t happen.

GR also uncovered a growing trend of ‘no-deposit’ schemes, which are presented as a ‘pay as you go’ deposit scheme, more manageable for the tenant than a one-off lump sum. However, in most cases they are more expensive and not covered by a deposit protection scheme.

Some 21 letting agents around the country were found to be breaching the Consumer Rights Act, which mandates that agents must display the fees they charge tenants in-branch and on their website. The penalty is £5,000.

The requirement was introduced four years ago and GR argues this raises concerns about how effectively the upcoming fees ban will be enforced.

GR campaigner Georgie Laming said: “The scale of malpractice from the lettings industry is shocking. Failing to display fees is in breach of Consumer Rights Act 2015 and it’s ripping off tenants who can’t make an informed choice.

“Whilst the Tenant Fees Act is a brilliant victory for renters, it is clear that we need better enforcement of the law if it is to work properly.”

• Homelessness charity Shelter said it was impossible to ignore the ‘frightening’ levels of homelessness and that it was a ‘national emergency’ as government figures showed that one household was being made homeless every five minutes.

Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said the government needed to build 3.1m new social homes and in the meantime increase housing benefit in line with private rents.

"More people are being pushed to the hard edge of the housing crisis by crippling private rents, frozen benefits, and endless waiting lists for social homes that don't exist,” she said.

The London Renters Union protested on 29 May about the ‘injustice’ of the temporary accommodation system outside the London Borough of Newham’s offices. It said it has a member who has been in temporary accommodation for 20 years.

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