The Consultation is Open!
Thank you very much indeed to everyone who has already been in touch about letting agents’ fees. We’ve found out about some absolutely shocking fees charged to renters around London. So far, fees for renewal of a tenancy seem to be the most unreasonable. It’s hard to justify charging such high prices for this service but sadly, because they still can, some agencies still do.
Renters’ Rights London is still seeking your informed opinions, therefore, to ensure that our response to consultation is as robust as it needs to be. Whether you rent your place via an agency now or have done so in the past, we’ll be grateful if you’ll share your experiences and views. You can remain anonymous, if you prefer, but please be assured that Renters’ Rights London won’t share your personal details with anyone, anyway; the details of your story stay with us.
Please tell us about your experience of letting agents’ fees?
Homelessness Reduction Bill
End of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST – the standard tenancy since 1989) is now cited as the most common cause of homelessness. number of people known to be sleeping on the streets increased by 16% last year, from 3,569 in 2015 to 4,134 in 2016 so it was only right and proper that the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which secured strong cross-party support, received its third reading in the House of Lords with no debate, on 23 March. Now awaiting Royal Assent, the Homelessness Reduction Bill will pass into law within the next few months.
The Bill aims to refocus local authorities in England on efforts to prevent homelessness. As well as increasing the period during which a local authority should treat someone as threatened with homelessness to 56 days, local authorities will also have a new duty to prevent homelessness for all eligible (by virtue of a local connection) applicants threatened with homelessness.
However, as Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association, said
“It is clear that legislative change alone will not resolve homelessness. It is crucial that the government recognise and address the wider factors that are increasing homelessness, such as the lack of affordable housing and welfare reforms. Without this, the bill will struggle to achieve its aim of reducing homelessness.”
Over two years, government is offering just £61 million between the local authorities to meet these new duties but, as Lord Porter pointed out “Councils need powers and funding to address the widening gap between incomes and rents, resume their historic role as a major builder of new affordable homes and join up all local services – such as health, justice and skills. This is the only way to deliver our collective ambition to end homelessness.”
The Rent Control Debate
Private rented housing; the rent control debate, House of Commons Briefing Paper (no.6760), published on 3 April, provides a timely overview of the debate around rent regulation. The English Housing Survey 2015-16 revealed that the private rented sector had overtaken social housing as the second largest tenure in UK, accounting for 4.5 million households (20%) and rising. Under the circumstances, the suggestion that “When seeking to learn lessons from alternative regimes, it is important to bear in mind that the private rented sector in the UK is not directly comparable to that in, for example, France, Germany and Switzerland, where a much greater proportion of the population sees private renting as the ‘normal’ choice of tenure” looks increasingly implausible.
Further, the latest English Housing Survey found that “private renters spend a significantly greater proportion of their income on their housing costs than social renters or those buying with a mortgage.” This fact amply underlines that ‘property’ as an investment class is still prioritised over and above our human right to ‘housing’ as a basic need in England (devolution of housing policy is leading to changes in Scotland, N. Ireland and in Wales).
Prior to 1989, private sector tenancies were subject to ‘fair’ or ‘registered’ rents set by independent rent officers under the Rent Act 1977. There are still some 100,000 regulated tenancies active in England but because no new ones have been created, the numbers decreases each year. Seven years have passed since the Con-LibDem Coalition Government identified need to address “ballooning” expenditure on Housing Benefit.
Recent analysis from Labour Party revealed that, last year, some £850 million was paid from the public purse to landlords letting out sub-standard homes. In total, the transfer of public money to private landlords across the country was worth £8.8 billion last year.
Nonetheless, the introduction of restrictions on eligibility for state support are having a harsh impact on those of us already struggling to make ends meet. The disparity between Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates and actual rent levels has contributed significantly to many loss of tenancies and thus, increased homelessness. This is at odds with the aims and objectives laid down in the Homelessness Prevention Bill, which is supported by Government.
Publication of Private rented housing; the rent control debate, suggests that this could be the time for Renters’ Rights London to re-launch our campaign calling for regulation of rents, which was initially aimed at Mayor of London prior to the last regional elections. However, in appointing a Minister for Housing, Planning and London. PM Theresa May made plain made plain that the Mayor will not be endowed with any new powers during her term.
Shelter is arguing for a “stable rental contract” to offer tenants predictable rent increases. However, we wonder whether London renters are ready push harder for more genuinely affordable rents? If you have a view on this, please do share your thoughts?
Letting Them Get Away With It
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 made it a legal requirement for all lettings agents in England to display details of all their fees and charges on their websites and in their offices. Agents also need to display whether or not they are a member of a client money protection scheme, along with details of which of the three government approved redress scheme they belong to. Trading Standards Officers, employed by local councils, are vested with powers of enforcement and, where all else fails, can initiate prosecution.
In Letting Them Get Way With It, London Assembly Member Sian Berry published findings from her London-wide survey of trading standards officers. In the seven months to December 2016, a total of 1,351 complaints had been lodged with councils but in total, only 444 visits were made by trading standards officers across London.
The highest number of complaints were made in Brent and Harrow (195). Wandsworth recorded the lowest number of complaints, with just one received. The two boroughs with most enforcement action, Islington and Camden, also received high numbers of complaints, This suggests that these boroughs are promoting the rules more effectively than others.
Only four councils issued fines to letting agents and of the total £66,000 in fines levied, nearly £42,000 was collected by London Borough of Islington (pie chart, above shows full details). As the report makes plain
“The amount of activity from councils varies hugely across London and does not necessarily correspond with either those boroughs with the highest numbers of private renters or those with landlord licensing schemes. The huge variation, along with the fact that councils are able to levy fines to cover the cost of enforcement work, suggests that the level of priority given to letting agent enforcement is a choice councils can make.
The huge variation, along with the fact that councils are able to levy fines to cover the cost of enforcement work, suggests that the level of priority given to letting agent enforcement is a choice councils can make. I therefore recommend that more councils put effort into this work, as it would help protect a large number of citizens from exploitation, and doesn’t need to eat up resources.”
Read the full report >> Letting Them Get Away With It
Help Generation Rent Expose Rip Off Agents
Are you willing to help expose letting agents ripping off tenants, or just downright breaking the law? Our friend, Seb Klier, London Policy Officer at Generation Rent wrote to us to say that
“Generation Rent is gathering and publishing data on letting agent fees around the country. Renters in some parts of London can already compare local letting agents and avoid the priciest and dodgiest ones, thanks to research by volunteers in those areas.
Since the findings were shared with councils, the number of agents who don’t publish their fees has dropped. We would love to get the whole of London covered but need the help of some more volunteers. If you have access to the internet and an hour or two that you can offer to help the capital’s renters, it’s really easy to get started – just go to http://lettingfees.co.uk/, put in your postcode and then click on the link to volunteer. You’ll receive everything you need to get started and we can continue to expose the rip-off fees charged by agents, as we put the case for finally banning them.”
If your landlord is a housing association, you’re eligible to vote (anonymously) in The Alternative Housing Awards. You are also invited to make suggestions for bad awards.
That’s at the same time and in (almost) the same place as the UK Housing Awards, which will be attended by many of those highly paid HA executives, of course.
Do please spread word of these awards; forward this email to your friends and co-workers; tell your neighbours; tell your family members; turn round and tell the person behind you in the supermarket queue (Why not? It’s so much more interesting than hearing about another unexpected item in the bagging area).