The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme has launched phase three of its national campaign with the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) to tackle lettings agents that are breaking the law by not displaying their fees.
The next phase will see TPO contacting 117 letting agents in Plymouth and the surrounding region.
Phase one and two of the campaign targeted agents in Swansea and Dorset followed by Reading, Basingstoke and the surrounding areas. The purpose of the campaign is to improve awareness of the current legislation that requires agents to display fee information, and ensure more firms are fully compliant to avoid fines being imposed by Trading Standards. The campaign requires agents to submit evidence and any firm that is found to be displaying the information incorrectly is given additional guidance and the opportunity to amend and re-submit to ensure they are compliant.
The first two phases of the campaign saw 445 agents asked to submit photographic evidence, and 99% and 95% of agents were displaying fees correctly as a result of the campaign. Agents that fail to comply and submit evidence will be referred directly to Trading Standards Officers, who can impose fines of up to £5,000.
Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman, said: “We've had an excellent response in the regions the campaign has focused on so far, with the vast majority of agents demonstrating they are compliant. This campaign is about educating agents that are either failing to display the required information or are unwittingly breaching the law by not displaying it correctly, which is why our campaign is phased so we can offer agents additional guidance and support so they can put things right and avoid risking a fine from Trading Standards.”
It has been reported that in the last three months, agents in London alone have been issued with fines from Trading Standards totalling as much as £370,000 for not displaying fees correctly.
To date, seven agents are due to be referred to Trading Standards for falling short of the standards outlined in TPO's Lettings Code of Practice and failing to display their fees in accordance with the law.
While the Government has confirmed its intention to ban agents from charging tenants letting fees in the future, as laid out in its Draft Tenants' Fees Bill this month, there is no confirmation on when this new legislation will come into effect. This means that the current law still applies and agents in England and Wales must display any tenant and landlord fees prominently, along with their redress membership and any Client Money Protection (CMP) scheme membership details. This information must be displayed at all premises where agents deal face-to-face with tenants and landlords, and on the agent's website.
Furthermore, regardless of the future ban on tenant fees, letting agents will still be required to display fees charged to landlords. Therefore, TPO and CTSI's joint campaign to ensure agents display their fees in accordance with the law will continue.
As before, agents in Plymouth will be asked to provide photographic evidence to demonstrate they are correctly displaying their fees in both the branch and on their company website, as required by law.
Katrine added: “TPO has also been in contact with a Trading Standards Officer from Plymouth who is focusing on display of lettings fees and TPO and Trading Standards Plymouth hope to work collaboratively on this project to ensure we continue to see positive results or encourage agents to make changes where necessary.”