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Government could U-turn on regulation, warns industry figure

Government could U-turn on regulation, warns industry figure

Despite repeated statements by ministers that they have no plans to burden letting agents with any more red tape, a leading industry figure has warned against any complacency over the charging of letting agency fees.

Peter Grant, chief executive of software supplier VTUK, said: “Shelter’s campaign to have lettings fees to tenants banned succeeded in Scotland, and was launched in England last week.

“The Government seems to be have a ‘hands off’ approach to the industry as a whole, but public opinion can change this rapidly.

“In the case of Scotland, we held a round table meeting including Shelter, leading agencies, law firms and the shadow minister only two days before the law was passed, and the entire group felt it would be going nowhere. 

“For this reason, it is crucial for the industry to act now, taking a pre-emptive and commercially viable approach rather than waiting for the axe to fall.”

Grant said there are already industry-driven solutions in existence.  
 
He said: “Forward-thinking agencies already operate schemes that produce transparent charging schedules that ensure tenants don’t spend a penny before knowing the costs, and this is simple to implement.

“For example, we updated our own letting agency software with a new function that allows the fees to be appended to the property description.”

Guidance to agents on advertising fees along with vacant rental properties is expected shortly, following the Advertising Standards’ Authority’s banning of an advert by Your Move where the online listing showed the rent but no other costs.

However, while the industry has concentrated on the issue of transparency, Shelter wants to go much further. Its campaign is aimed at getting all letting agent fees to tenants banned, with costs only to be met by landlord.

The nearest analogy is probably recruitment agencies. By law, UK agencies are banned from charging job-seekers for finding or trying to find them work – so, for example, they cannot charge registration fees.

Recruitment agencies are permitted to charge for additional services such as CV preparation, but they cannot make job-seekers use these. Job-seekers who do use them must be given full written details of such additional services, including their rights to cancel. If they do cancel any paid-for services, it must not affect their rights to continue to use the agency for free.