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Written by rosalind renshaw

Letting agents are calling for Shelter’s charitable status to be withdrawn, and for the organisation to be reported to the Charity Commission

The call – supported by Martin & Co’s Ian Wilson (see separate story) – was sounded loudly and clearly in a number of comments made on LAT to our report of Shelter’s bid to get letting agent fees to tenants banned by law.

Posters said that Shelter – which was a beneficiary last year of agents’ generous fund-raising for the homeless in the form of the Estate Agents Foundation and the Zoopla Property Cycle Ride – is a political lobbying organisation and not a charity.

They claimed that this could breach the Charity Commission’s regulations, with one poster saying that donors were being misled. One poster described Shelter as a “government funded scandal”.

Some suggested making complaints to Shelter’s trustees and to MPs, as well as to the Charity Commission.

Shelter no longer features on lists of beneficiaries of the industry’s main fund-raisers this year.


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    Mr Spode

    I enjoy the position of being independent of everyone and have opinions free of commercial motivation, this is a subject I have deeper understanding and experience of than most.
    I know how the industry works and understand what is causing the issues that Shelter, RICS, TPO and others are lobbying against in a very well connected campaign. A campaign that if it were not for the laziness in changing the script could be described are orchestrated and possibly clandestine.
    There is a grey area element on one fringe of the industry that purely lets property, they do not act for the landlord other than to find a tenant. In some cases they are portfolio landlords who purport to be Agents, using the guise of Agency to add credibility to their marketing. Essentially there is a Gossamer line between a legitimate Lettings Agency that derives its majority income from landlords and those who offer unviable fees to landlords supplemented by exorbitant fees to tenants.

    In my opinion it is self defeating for Shelter to lobby against legitimate fees charged by Agents who are properly engaged in Lettings and Management because they too [Agents] are adversely affected and tarnished by the fringe operators; In the recent BBC Watchdog program a ‘Rogue’ Agent was portrayed as ripping off a soap opera actor. No-one bothered to see is the claimed Agent was an Agent, no-one bothered to check if the tenant was a private tenant afforded protection under the housing act, instead the BBC delivered a biased anti- Agent report that was devoid of fact or accuracy. The claimed Agent appears to have been the landlord, the claimed private tenant was a effectively a commercial tenant with a company let to make the most of tax allowances afforded to companies, on that basis none of the claims of roguery by letting agents holds water yet the BBC have reinforced the notion that the whole Lettings industry is rogue.

    You can dismiss the thought that we need lawyers to fight our corner, your outrageous accusation that we are ignorant and that anyone should consider themselves mad to even attempt to educate us goes a long way to revealing the underlying attitude towards an industry that generously donated so much to Shelter over the years. I suspect your comments will have clarified to many whether they should continue to support Shelter.

    Whether Ian Wilson gathers together 50 Agents to stand up to Shelter and force Shelter to spend money defending its position, whether the ‘Arcane’ [to use your obloquy] Charity Commissioners find that Shelter are OK to continue lobbying parliament away from their charitable aims and objectives or whether this discussion thread is all that exists of this unpleasantness, there is no doubt this will cost Shelter dearly and will not have endeared them to the hearts and minds of this generous industry, its suppliers, its Landlords and the 99.97% of tenants who find there is nothing to complain about.

    • 20 June 2013 12:51 PM
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    very eloquent and well thought out reply.

    It really irks me that some people have this idea that we are all mindlessly ranting and raving about some perceived loss to our wallets, it just goes to show they have little or no understanding of how the majority of us in this industry work.

    • 20 June 2013 10:31 AM
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    Well said

    • 20 June 2013 08:44 AM
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    Sorry Mr Spode do you think your arrogant and condescending tone is going to help this dialogue?
    I for one am neither ignorant of the Charity commission rules nor an irate agent looking to protect my income, I am a mislead Shelter donor who thought I was helping the homeless rather than paying inflated salaries to executives who seem bent on petulant crusades against Agents and Landlords on behalf of a micro section of Society; those wealthy enough to compete in a competitive sector of limited supply and growing demand but who do not like the charges associated with that competition.
    In the same way as I understand why agents who have a reasonable fees structure against which no-one complains would naturally object to a campaign that seeks to outlaw their fair and reasonable fees along with the excessive fees of opportunistic fringe agents and pseudo agents, I can understand why you are here claiming that Shelter’s lobbying is within their remit. You are trying to put a case that they [Shelter]should be allowed to continue to do what they think they should be doing. Ignoring Mr Wilson’s idea to fight Shelter and pass everyone’s money hand over fist to lawyers, the suggestion is that the Charity Commissioner should decide whether Shelter is behaving appropriately. It is not unreasonable, ignorant or irate to request an investigation by those charged with regulating.
    There are over 3,600,000 private rented properties in this country which effectively give rises to 7,200,000 tenancy fee opportunities yet that huge volume of transaction gives rise to less than 2000 complaints annually, a complaints ratio of under 0.03%. One complaint every 11 days, is 1 complaint per 217000 tenancies. Before you get all high and mighty about there being no regulator for the lettings industry please explain why there is need for one when the level of complaints is so low? It is probably worth pointing out that less than 900 of those complaints were upheld. This makes the level of justified complaints in a self regulated industry even more impressive. I challenge you to find any commercial and competitive market sector that does better
    You are obviously here trying to head off the threat of action against Shelter, action that I agree would help neither Agents, Shelter or the Homeless, please take back the message to the trustees of Shelter that Mr Robb refuses any dialogue with anyone wanting dialogue on this matter, his campaigns are based on embarrassingly contrived data manipulations and he is now attacking possibly one of the largest supporter groups of Shelter.
    Shelter can flatter their own ego and convince themselves they are justified in attacking an industry that is 99.97% complaint free in order to reign in the activities of a minute minority but wouldn’t it be better to work with the majority of Agents who have been generous givers to the charity?

    If Mr Robb and the Shelter trustees believe that Agent, Landlord and Industry Service Supplier Donations to their charity amounts to blood money they could have said so much earlier and more succinctly. Never mind, Mr Robb and his campaign team have managed to bring Shelter’s reputation into disrepute, they have managed to halt embarrassing wads of tainted cash flowing into the coffers and have probably prompted the formation of a Charity better able to help those whose cause Shelter have suddenly championing. Let’s hope the sacrifice was worth it.

    • 20 June 2013 08:02 AM
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    So the charity commission are a weak regulator who will not tackle a charity that misleads its donors and manipulates data to misrepresent letting agents.

    No wonder Moonbeams were able to get away with their actions for so long.

    • 19 June 2013 19:32 PM
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    I'm attempting to explain the arcane world of charity law to irate letting agents worried about the future health of their wallets. I must be mad...

    Shelter's charitable objects are in the public domain, available on the Charity Commission website. But there is a big difference between what they do - their charitable activities - and what they are trying to achieve - their objects.

    "Campaigning to change the law to stop letting agents ripping off tenants" is not and could not be an OBJECT of Shelter, that would be a political purpose - but it may be a legitimate ACTIVITY in pursuit of their objects of helping the homeless, educating the public about the causes of homelessness etc...

    It is up to the trustees of the charity to decide which activities to undertake in pursuit of their objects - not the Charity Commission, which is rather a hands-off regulator (although not so hands off as the non-existent Letting Agents Regulator). The trustees of Shelter could make a plausible case in law that this campaign is an activity in pursuit of 3 out of their 4 objects - especially object 3 "relieve poverty and distress" which has been held to include prevention.

    Nor is this campaign misleading to donors - their campaigns have always been part of their fundraising appeals. By all means disagree with their campaign, and decide to stop supporting the charity as a result, and even try to persuade others to do the same. Maybe you should even write to the trustees to express your displeasure (although they've probably got your message, and you would probably only serve to stiffen their resolve).

    To subsequently threaten to "hire aggressive lawyers" to pursue a case that has no merit but would nonetheless force Shelter to incur legal costs to defend doesn't sound to me like the best way to win hearts and minds... I'm sure the expensive lawyers would enjoy taking your money though, after carefully explaining that they didn't think a conditional fee arrangement was appropriate in this case.

    Perhaps rather than objecting to Shelter's right to exist, you'd do better to explain what it is that is so unreasonable about the campaign that asserts "asking landlords to cover the costs of setting up a tenancy is a fairer way of doing business; as it is landlords, not renters, who have the power to choose one agency over another, to negotiate the fees charged and to terminate a contract"

    Other than "my business will suffer as a result" - because at the moment - I'm with Shelter on this. It is after all how estate agency works - do you think it would be right to be able to act for the buyer and the vendor in that situation too?

    • 19 June 2013 19:11 PM
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    Would you care to explain how lobbying for the abolition of Agency fees for tenants is within the remit of a charity set up to help the homeless? By the very definition of the issue Shelter are raising, these are tenants who have found a Home but who don’t like the charges associated with that home. With 30 tenants queuing for every property it doesn’t matter if the malcontent tenant says no thank you, there will be some else who is grateful for the accommodation.
    This reeks of agents being made the scapegoat for umpteen years of inconstant housing policy. It is wholly wrong that Agents and Landlords are having to find solutions to tenants at the crossover between the Private rented sector and Social housing. Is it any wonder why we would question why a Charity set up to help those failed by the Social sector and Housing Associations is consistently lobbying on a Housing sector that is two whole housing sectors distant from those that Shelter was set up to support?

    It is all well and good copying and pasting the bits of the Charity commission website that support your position but how about you read the full script and put it in the context of Shelter meddling in matters that have only a Mozzarella string connection with its Charitable purpose?

    Abolishing Agents fees will not help the homeless; it will simply make securing a tenancy for those higher up the economic ladder a tad more affordable. Removing fees will drive up rents making the situation worse for those least able to compete.

    With over 3.6 million tenancies the total level of complaints against Agents is less than one tenth of one percent, Shelter are abusing their position as a charity to actively lobby on a matter outside the charity remit with claims of widespread wrong doing. With little if any evidence of Shelter funding tenants facing difficulties it appears that Shelter have switched from being a Charity to a purely lobbying organisation and were described as such in the story last week. When you are trawling through the charity commission site again you will understand it is not ignorant to question whether a political lobbying organisation can enjoy the benefits afforded to a Charity. If Shelter are giving the firm impression they are now lobbyists it is only right and proper the Charity commission probe whether or not their lobbying activities are legitimate and whether their dubiously manipulated data is admissible in supporting their activities.
    I really am looking forward to your replies, Shelter have remained arrogantly aloof in answering reasonable question and comment about their Charity gone bad activities.

    • 19 June 2013 18:21 PM
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    You say it was your daughters first job, so no record of income and nothing to convince an agent she will pass the usual 3 month probation. Probably not a glowing credit score either.

    Write to the Agent and thank them very much for convincing the landlord to take a punt on her.

    How much does your solicitor charge per letter that they have more than likely sent 1000 times before? About £150 is the going rate

    Shal we put this in context, your daughter has a job she is wealthy enough to live away from home presumably she has a telly and pays a licence fee? £145 to not watch the BBC?

    There are costs attached to living in a democratic, capitalist society, If she and you don't like it there are lots of communist countries were costs and opportunities are more fairly distributed.

    Tell me demetrios.Stavrou how do you earn a living?

    • 19 June 2013 17:31 PM
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    As others have said charities can campaign and lobby parliament. However, if the report is factual and not made up what would the agents be challenging.

    My daughter in her first job had to find four months rent deposit. the first quarters rent. A £120 admin. fee for printing off a standard form and six months later another £120 fee for extending the lease, which took five minutes. Please justify.
    Then when there were issues with the flat it took months for the work to eventually being done, accusing my daughter of not being at home when they called. She is working use some common sense.

    • 19 June 2013 17:07 PM
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    All very good Dennis;
    "Charities can campaign for a change in the law, policy or decisions... where such change would support the charity’s purposes. Charities can also campaign to ensure that existing laws are observed." ......... but what is Shelters purpose in the context of letting agents and what are the existing laws in England & WEales?

    • 19 June 2013 14:12 PM
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    You all seem very ignorant about charity law. There is no law that stops a charity from lobbying parliament, and nothing which restricts their activities to "helping the poor" - for instance most of the private schools the Chartered Surveyors among you aspire to send your children to are registered charities.

    From the Charity Commission's own guidance:

    "Charities can campaign for a change in the law, policy or decisions... where such change would support the charity’s purposes. Charities can also campaign to ensure that existing laws are observed."

    If they were campaigning to reduce the speed limit you might have a point. As it is, threatening to "lawyer up" in this way is only likely to further harm the already low reputation of your industry.

    • 19 June 2013 13:53 PM
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    I have followed this issue closely and find myself agreeing fully with the petition and comments made.
    As letting agents we run a business and need to make a profit, take some of that profit away and who will suffer? Tenants by way of higher rents to plug the gap? Landlords who will maybe seek lower fees from less reputable agents or staff who will need to be sacrificed to reduce our overheads?
    I too question the whole Shelter set-up - no longer a charity more a steering committee with a very highly paid CEO!
    Government should be concentrating on the following in my humble opinion: -
    1. Sorting out the mess that is deposit legislation.
    2. Set about creating a licensing scheme for legitimate agents.
    3. Set out plans to licence every private landlord to include a central register such that legislation is disseminated from government to landlords so that issues such as the Deposit legislation issues cannot arise again.
    4. Create a working party to look at future housing legislation rather than just re-hashing 1988 every few years!

    • 19 June 2013 10:47 AM
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    You should never have doubted yourself Ray, see what you can do with a little help from the voice of the industry.
    Thank you both for raising this!
    39 Facebook likes, 55 Tweets and close to 2000 story views demonstrate a genuine interest in protecting the reputation, respect and income of an industry that has an exemplary record of self regulation but one that others seek to unfairly besmirch for their own political or financial gain.

    • 18 June 2013 18:14 PM
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    Also of interest is that councils in Scotland are giving the proceeds of Landlord registration to Shelter in return for Shelter providing tenant advice shops.

    • 18 June 2013 16:33 PM
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    That is the whole point. Shelter has lost focus on what they are. Shelter has gone from a charity to help the homeless to a Political lobbying organisation that is seeking to stamp out Rogue landlords and control tenancy costs.
    It is that change in focus from Charity to lobbying organisation that is causing the upset. To attack an industry that has been all too happy to support Shelter since long before Mr Robb was employed is simply a mis-use of position and clear demonstration that Mr Robb and his campaign team have very little idea how the Private rented sector actually works. The real concern is they are lobbying MP’s who are being briefed to the same level of understanding as Shelter’s. It is almost surreal how appallingly bad the whole pantomime really is.

    • 18 June 2013 12:06 PM
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    If Shelter really want to help the homeless, they would do better to embrace rather than alienate the PRS.

    If they were to work with us constructively they would earn more respect in the sector and would achieve far more to help their target market.

    • 18 June 2013 11:18 AM
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    Just signed the petition (two posts down) as well.

    • 18 June 2013 09:29 AM
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    I agree with Christopher Clarke. Well said.

    Shelter need to put their "tarring" brush away.

    • 18 June 2013 09:28 AM
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    This issue bothered me when it came to the forefront in Scotland. Rant about Shelter in a moment.

    The underlying problem is the value of property in the UK (both sales and rentals) - it is just too expensive.

    There are several reasons:-
    i) Successive governments have propped up rental prices with "top-up" housing benefit
    ii) Successive governments have failed to encourage new building starts
    iii) Successive governments have loaded ever more expensive green initiatives onto housebuilders which buyers are not prepared to pay a premium for
    iv) Banks have lent lots and lots of stupid money to buyers so, because of (i), (ii) and (iii) above, sale & rental prices are massively out of step with the reality of average salaries

    Shelter have a point. Tenants are being gouged by bad estate agents - I hear it every day.

    As a charity for the homeless it is certainly within their remit to point out the iniquities of our current system - but they really need to be looking at the fundamental causes, not looking for a soft target. Cracking estate agents won't deal with the problem, even though (if they succeed) they will be able to pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

    • 18 June 2013 09:17 AM
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    The Letting Agent Support Klub (LASK) have started a petition about Sheler: http://www.lettingagentsupportklub.co.uk/petition.html

    • 18 June 2013 08:49 AM
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    It is so disappointing that the charity that was so widely supported by the Property industry has seen it necessary to alienate itself so whole heartedly from those most in a position to help.
    It is not an act of malicious retaliation or commercial protectionism that is prompting the backlash against Shelter but a natural reaction to Mr Robb’s overt exploitation of his position and connections within Government to lobby parliament, something that is forbidden by Charity Commission rules.
    If Shelter want to be a Political lobbying organisation I can see no reason why Shelter should not use Mr Robb’s experience and connections to do exactly that however if Shelter wish to remain a Charity set up to help the homeless then they should cease their lobbying.
    In the past 2 years or so Shelter have been very vocal against both landlords and Agents, actively lobbying for change with widespread use of dubiously manipulated statistics to support their campaigns.
    There is no doubt that Shelter have a strong board of trustees and are well supported by celebrity patrons however it is simply repugnant that they seem fit to misuse their position, influence and goodwill as a charity to single out and blame our industry for the failures of Government to formulate a cohesive Housing policy that is fair to all. As an industry the very vast majority of Landlords and Agents are fair to themselves and their tenants yet it makes good media to paint the whole industry as rogue when that is far from the case.
    The request is a simple one if you are not a Rogue Agent or a Rogue landlord, if you genuinely run a fair and honest business with good quality accommodation and have a fair and transparent fee structure in place, please help the likes of Alan Ward and Ian Potter stand up to those who are painting us all in a nasty shade of rogue. Please help by Tweeting and Liking this story, spreading the word to other Agents, Landlords and Tenants that the very vast majority of Agents and landlords are not as Shelter suggest of the Rogue variety might force the trustees of Shelter to take a different attitude and approach towards an industry that up till now has been a significant supporter of its work.
    Protect your Industry, defend your reputation …..Tweet, Like, Complain to the Charity commission.

    • 18 June 2013 08:08 AM