The government’s formal consultation on its proposed ban for fees levied on tenants by agents has been greeted with derision and contempt by a string of industry bodies which spent the weekend expressing anger.
Isobel Thomson, chief executive of the National Approved Letting Scheme, described the proposed ban as “an unwarranted attack on good landlords and professional lettings businesses” and went on to say it was “a misguided attempt to help tenants which will only serve to hit the most vulnerable and make their access to the private rented sector even less attainable.”
Meanwhile the Residential Landlords Association issued a statement claiming that the last four housing ministers - including the current one, Gaving Barwell - had publicly opposed a fees ban.
The RLA says that in 2013 the then housing minister, Mark Prisk. said a ban “cannot be the answer to tackle the minority of irresponsible agents”, whilst his predecessor Kris Hopkins described the proposal as a “short term gimmick” which would mean “higher rents by the back door.”
In 2015, Brandon Lewis, now a Home Office minister, said that it would “reduce the number of properties available to rent” whilst the current Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, last year tweeted that it would be a “bad idea” which would increase rents.
The Residential Landlords Association is arguing that whilst high fees do cause problems for tenants, such issues should be looked at as part of a comprehensive strategy for the private rented sector.
The association says a ban will do nothing to improve enforcement of the law which currently means letting agents have to be clear, upfront, about the fees they charge. It claims a handful of council have taken action against agents who have flouted the law.
“Regulation without proper enforcement is meaningless and only helps the rogue agents. Whatever the outcome of the consultation we need a system that ensures finite resources are focussed on finding and rooting out the crooks, not penalising those agents and landlords providing a good service” says policy director David Smith.
The industry software supplier Eurolink is also critical, and urges agents to ensure their voices are heard.
Nigel Poole, managing director of the software provider, says: “It’s time that reputable, regulated agents communicate the extensive work that they undertake on behalf of both landlords and tenants and the way in which they charge fairly to reflect this.
“As with any business, agents have to build in to their fees a whole host of expenses relating to obvious items such as office space and staffing. But they also need to build in less obvious costs relating to the qualifications, professional body membership and government legislation required to offer tenants and landlords the professional service that is being demanded from them” he adds.
Poole concludes: “It is completely unacceptable to expect agents to work for either party for free. This is why I’m telling clients: ‘don’t be shy in coming forward and communicating your worth. Now is the time to speak out’.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Luke Burton, director of referencing company Rent4sure. “We will now work with the government and the lettings sector to find the right solution, so that our agents are able to maintain the high standards of service that their tenants and landlords currently receive” he says.