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Agents featured in Watchdog programme defend themselves

The agents featured in last night’s BBC Watchdog programme have strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Reeds Rains, Your Move – both part of LSL – and Foxtons were named in the programme, which criticised their links with utility firm Spark Energy.

Spark also denied any unethical behaviour.

Watchdog also featured the issue of regulation of letting agents, after actor Nigel Havers said he had been ripped off.

A spokesperson for LSL said that Your Move and Reeds Rains offered Spark Energy as a service, and that it was strongly in favour of full regulation of letting agents.

She said: “Your Move and Reeds Rains offer Spark Energy as a service to tenants to help them when moving in.

“It ensures that they have a competitively priced supply which is connected and ready for when their Let begins.

“Spark Energy guarantee to be at or below the tariff of the biggest six energy suppliers and also install a ‘smart meter’ helping tenants to manage their energy bills.

“Tenants are not obligated to take this option and can exit at any stage, including arranging a different supplier prior to taking up the tenancy if they wish. Spark in fact guarantee to be one of the cheapest energy suppliers in the UK when tenants pay by direct debit.

“The contract with Spark Energy is within the requirements of both OFT and Ofgem. We receive a small administration fee from Spark Energy to cover the costs involved in setting up and managing the utility accounts.

“We are fully committed to regulatory compliance and wholeheartedly welcome further Consumer Protection Regulation guidance to ensure the ‘well being’ of customers can be assured – whichever agent they choose.

“We would also welcome all lettings agents being fully regulated and have actively lobbied for this for some years.”

Foxtons echoed these views, saying that the firm belonged to ARLA, NAEA, SAFEagent and the National Landlords Association, and used the Mydeposits tenancy deposit protection scheme.

Like LSL, Foxtons said it used Spark Energy as a service for tenants.

A spokesperson said: “In common with many estate agencies, Foxtons uses Spark Energy to make tenants’ lives easier when moving in to a new rental property by removing the hassle of setting up utilities at what is typically a very busy time for them.

“Tenants are informed that the incumbent energy supplier at their property will be Spark Energy prior to the commencement of their tenancy and in the move-in pack they receive from Foxtons.

“Spark offers highly competitive rates which are currently cheaper than the equivalent tariffs from the Big 6 suppliers, but tenants are free to change supplier once they move in. We ask them to notify us before switching so that their landlord can be kept informed, and we believe this is in line with the OFT’s guidance you have cited in your letter.

“As Spark offers a good service for tenants and landlords, we receive very few complaints about them.”

Spark also denied the claim made in the programme that tenants found it ‘virtually impossible’ to leave Spark, saying that tenants were free to move suppliers, in line with OFT, Ofgem and consumer body guidance. However, said Spark, incoming tenants benefit from cheaper energy if they inherit Spark.

Spark’s director of sales and marketing Kris Jacobsen said: “New tenants default to our Standard or PrePayment Meter tariffs which are cheaper than the equivalents of the Big 6. Failure to pay, inaccurate or missing meter readings and estimation issues can result in higher tariffs or bills, but these are by exception and can be dealt with in person or online 24/7.

“Most tenants are very happy with this providing they also receive a good level of service (Watchdog’s own quote).

“Spark have serviced over 300,000 tenancies and while the number of complaints (200) is not something that we are happy with, it is inevitable that we will make mistakes and that we will suffer from industry standards that fall below our, our partners’ and our customers’ expectations.

“We are constantly improving our customer experience and have recently appointed a Director of Customer Experience and will be announcing significant enhancements in the coming weeks.”

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