Agents who deal in student lets are expressing concerns over the effect of the impending fees ban.
Most students looking for somewhere to rent for the next academic year secure accommodation months in advance – usually by March but in some cases months earlier.
Agents we have spoken to are increasingly recognising that this could cause an issue as students could legitimately be charged fees, but by the time they move in during September next year, there may well be a ban on tenant charges in place.
Mark Crampton Smith, director at Oxford-based College and County, believes agents in this market might well have to refund fees.
He is already seeing students seeking lets for the next academic year, with Oxford historically having a low supply of rental properties.
Crampton Smith told EYE: “Other agents in the area are already publicising student houses and we are already getting interest.
“We are toying with the idea of being the first to say ‘no tenant fees in Oxford’ but currently there is no clarity in the legislation.”
He called for the Government to give a timeline, and said: “We may be in a position where we could have to refund tenant fees to students who have already secured their accommodation. I can see that as a possibility.”
He said no one has yet queried having to pay tenant fees.
Sarah Bush, of Cambridge-based estate agents Cheffins, said: “It is not uncommon for students in Cambridge to look as early as February and March or even January in some cases to ensure they have a good-quality property to move into in the next academic year.
“I can’t see students getting away with not paying fees before the next academic year.
“Do they risk it and wait until August or September on the chance the fee ban may come in and then have a more restricted amount of properties? Alternatively, as has happened in many years, do they pay the associated fees to ensure they get the property and avoid the last minute stresses?”
Bush said: “There is a lot of confusion – we are dealing with draft legislation.
“The best we can do is provide the right information. No one has refused to pay fees so far.”
Aaron Cambden, of Nottingham-based Fairview Estates, said she could not envisage having to refund student tenants, saying: “The letting fees ban will be introduced in 2018, a long time after the majority of students have already found a property.
“On this occasion then, this means that those students conscientious enough to secure a property early on will have to bear the brunt of the letting fees associated with property hunting; this is just how the fee ban will play out.
“The only redeeming factor is that by 2019, we’ll see the fee ban catch up and no one will have to pay associated costs. In any marketplace, prices go up and down during the year depending when you buy a product, and unfortunately the fact remains that students will miss out in this respect for their 2018 property lettings.”
Carol Pawsey, group lettings director at KFH, said this is something MPs should look at.
She said: “Areas like this may need to be considered as the parliamentary debate unfolds. As it stands the fees ban will not be retrospective but we’ll know more as the Bill progresses through Parliament and amendments are tabled.”
A spokesman for housing charity Shelter. which has in the past helped students reclaim fees illegally charged in Scotland, said it was aware of this issue.