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Tenants warned to beware of rogue letting agents as new figures show more than 46% don’t comply with the law

Posted 13/09/19

London Trading Standards (LTS) has today issued a stark warning to tenants: understand your rights or you risk being ripped off by rogue letting agents.
This caution comes as figures released as part of London Trading Standards Week show that letting agents were fined over £1.2million for breaking the law; either for not displaying fees and charges or for not being members of a redress scheme.
Figures from LTS show that more than 46% of 1,922 agents inspected in the 15 months up to June 2019 by local council trading standards officers were non-compliant with either the Consumer Rights Act and/or the legislation on redress scheme membership.
As well as the fines, London boroughs instigated 14 criminal prosecutions for a range of offences including breaches of unfair trading rules.
The enforcement survey by London Trading Standards shows that there were over 6,000 letting agents operating across the capital and over 1,000 complaints about them.
London Trading Standards’ Operations Director Stephen Knight said: “London borough trading standards teams have been increasingly active in tackling rogue letting agents in recent years, with over £1.2 million of fines issued in the past 15 months and 14 criminal prosecutions, but dodgy agents are far too commonplace across London and private renters need to be very careful not to be ripped off. If you need help with a dodgy letting agent, then contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06 and they can refer you to your local council trading standards team.”
Two new laws, the Tenant Fees Act and the Client Money Protection Schemes for Property Agents, which have recently come into force are likely to add significant new protections to tenants. Until now, trading standards teams had limited powers to tackle rogue letting agents.
Under the Tenant Fees Act, which applies to tenancies signed since 1 June 2019, agents are banned from charging fees for all but a handful of controlled subjects and deposits are strictly limited.
Also, since 1 April 2019, agents must hold any client money in a separate client money account. This must be protected through membership of a client money protection scheme.
London Councils’ Executive Member for Housing and Planning and Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, Cllr Darren Rodwell, said: “Boroughs are cracking down on rogue letting agents to protect tenants from unfair treatment. As the research shows, this poses a serious challenge in London, where housing pressures are so severe and a significant number of letting agents have been breaking the rules. Borough trading standards teams are crucial for tackling this issue. Through raising awareness, issuing fines and pursuing prosecutions, we’re determined to support tenants and make clear to rogue letting agents that bad practice is unacceptable.”
Dan Wilson Craw, Director of Generation Rent, a campaign organisation on behalf of private renters, said: “This year’s Tenant Fees Act has the potential to save you hundreds of pounds every time you move. But because so many letting agents have been flouting existing laws, you have to be vigilant when looking for a new home to avoid being ripped off. If a letting agent asks for something unusual, like a payment for something that is not rent or a refundable deposit, then you should question this and seek advice if unsure. For example, London Renters Union could help you if you've been asked to pay an illegal fee.”
Chief Executive at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, Leon Livermore, said: “The fact that London boroughs had to issue over £1.2million in fines and started 14 criminal prosecutions is truly shocking. This kind of enforcement work by trading standards illustrates how big a part the profession is playing in keeping UK consumers safe and holding rogue letting agents to account.”
Residents can find out more by following LTS on Twitter @London_T_S and by checking for the #LTSWeek2019 hashtag.
Ends
Notes to editors:
1. London Trading Standards (LTS) represents the 33 local authority Trading Standards services in the London Region. LTS shares information and awareness campaigns across the capital to protect consumers and safeguard legitimate enterprise.
2. LTS members advise on and enforce laws that govern the way we buy, sell, rent and hire goods and services. LTS carry out inspections and monitor or investigate complaints. LTS endeavours to work with businesses to help achieve compliance but ultimately, can prosecute those who break the law. Trading standards have the power to inspect premises involved in the distribution of used electrical goods. They may suspend and seize goods as appropriate as well as conduct investigations into criminal offences arising from unsafe goods
3. Consumers may report London related information on trading standards issues to London Trading Standards, via our online reporting tool http://www.londontradingstandards.org.uk/report-consumer-crime/. The information will be passed on to the relevant authority or organisation. Please note it is a confidential no-reply service. If you need any further advice or guidance please contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.
4. The current letting agents enforcement survey relates to 15 months from April 2018 to June 2019. The last set of figures were prepared in 2016.
5. Letting agents are required to be a member of a redress scheme by The Redress Schemes for Lettings Agency Work and Property Management Work (Requirement to Belong to a Scheme etc) (England) Order 2014. They have a duty under section 83 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 to publish the relevant redress scheme.
6. Interviews with a tenant who has suffered from poor treatment at the hands of a rogue letting agent can be arranged.
7. LTS Letting agents enforcement survey results 2018-19 and Q1 2019-20. NB figures exclude LB Hillingdon)
London boroughs reported a total of 6,039 letting agents known to them across London.
During 2018-19, 1,658 inspections were made either of agents’ offices or their websites and just 53.5% were found to be compliant with the law.
In the first quarter of 2019-20 (April-June) 264 inspections were made and 62.5% were found to be compliant with the law.
In total, over the 15 month period, 1,922 inspections were made and 54.7% of offices/websites were found to be compliant with the law.
Complaints received about letting agents: 855 in 2018-19 and 237 in first quarter of 2019-20 = total of 1,092 complaints over 15 month period.
8. Fines issued:
A total of £1,202,840 in fines was issued to letting agents by boroughs over the 15 month period.  A total of 256 fines were issued, with the average fine being £4,695.
14 criminal prosecutions were taken during the period against letting agents.
9. New legislation
The Client Money Protection Schemes for Property Agents (Requirement to Belong to a Scheme etc.) Regulations 2019 came into force on 1st April 2019 and requires all letting agents to hold any client money in a separate client money account which must be protected through membership of a client money protection scheme.
The Tenant Fees Act 2019, which applies to all tenancy agreements signed since 1st June 2019, bans letting agents from charging fees to tenants for all but a handful of controlled items and deposits are strictly limited.
LTS Director of Operations, Stephen Knight is available for interview. Contact details:
stephen.knight@londontradingstandards.org.uk



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