Show us evidence that you display fees or we’ll report you, TPO tells agents

The Property Ombudsman Scheme has launched a new national campaign with the Chartered Trading Standards Institute to tackle letting agents that are breaking the law by not displaying their fees.

The joint campaign will initially target agents operating in Swansea and Dorset, who will be required to provide TPO with photographic evidence to demonstrate they are complying with the law by displaying their fees in both the branch and on their company website.

Any agent that fails to submit evidence will be referred to Trading Standards for further investigation.

Trading Standards officers have the powers to impose fines of up to £5,000 on any letting agent that fails to display its fees.

An estimated 85% of all UK letting agents are signed up with TPO and following the Lettings Code of Practice, which clearly states that agents must display their fees in accordance with the 2015 Consumer Rights Act.

Gerry Fitzjohn, TPO’s board chairman, said: “We want our agents to lead from the front. There can be no excuses. We’re zero tolerant on this issue.

“Letting fees are under the spotlight and firms would be well advised to get their house in order to ensure they comply with the law.

“Our joint aim with this campaign is to improve compliance within the industry and raise awareness among consumers so more landlords and tenants ask about fees before they choose their letting agent.”

The CTSI represents Trading Standards professionals across the UK.

Adrian Simpson, the CTSI’s business education and consumer codes expert, said: “Agents signed up with The Property Ombudsman scheme have shown that they are willing to commit to the highest levels of consumer protection by following the scheme’s CTSI-approved Code of Practice.

“We fully support TPO’s efforts to improve industry compliance, and any agent that has failed to display their fees up until now must act.

“We are aware of Trading Standards officers taking serious action against those that fail to comply.”

The campaign will also publicise the growing number of cases where Trading Standards officers have successfully imposed the maximum penalty of £5,000 on lettings agents for failing to display their fees.

Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman, said: “As Ombudsman, my primary focus is that agents should be clear and transparent in their dealings with consumers.

“Agents that display their letting fees demonstrate to consumers that they are operating to a high standard, complying with the law and TPO’s Code, and are open in their communication.

“As highlighted in TPO’s Annual Report, poor communication is one of the key root causes of consumer complaints. Displaying fees can only help reduce complaints and raise standards.”

TPO’s membership terms require that all agents are compliant with the law and the scheme’s Code of Practice, which clearly states that all letting agents must display their fees.

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11 Comments

  1. Roger.

    Yet another bullying approach from TPO… experience shows they should put their own house in order before wielding the axe..I’m all up for working with them but the constant onslaught of having to prove your innocence is very tiring and somewhat offensive. If only this approach was used to those agents not signed up to a redress scheme.

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  2. RealAgent

    I dont particularly have a problem with this, if as an agent you comply, why would you I suppose. However, I very much question whether TPO are set up to really handle this extra administration and enforcement.

    I would also say that the words from the TPO board chairman used to describe this initiative sounded extremely “gung-ho” which I found unfortunate.

    Finally I am also somewhat uncomfortable with this supposed mission by TPO to encourage tenants and landlords to “ask” about fees before choosing their agents. Transparency is one thing, but shining a spotlight on something is entirely different. There is a fine line between regulating an industry and trying to impose commercial terms of business for it and this initiative comes dangerously close to that in my opinion.

     

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    1. El Burro

      So we have to prove we are complying or have trading standards crawling all over us? That is outrageous. Under what powers are they demanding this?

      We comply fully with up front fees and have very recent on the spot trading standards inspections to prove it. Why should we have another layer of bureaucracy to deal with because some of our competitors can’t be bothered?

      We were one of the first in the UK to sign up to the Ombudsman scheme when it was opened up to all agents not just corporates and have had a very good relationship with them until recently but I’m rapidly losing faith as we have been on the wrong end of them acting outside their remit.

       

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  3. mrharvey

    Yeah – reported to Trading Standards and then get it ‘resolved informally’. Waste of time if you’re not going to get punished.

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  4. ChippyJames

    You all know that displaying your fees openly is the law right?

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  5. Woodentop

    So I submit a photograph. Is it genuine, is it still displayed after I have taken the photograph? This is where the system is broken, feet on the ground is needed. There are not that many agents in Swansea or Dorset that an investigator cannot walk around in one day and see for themselves and as for internet, the lazy so and so’s can do it from their office desk!

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    1. Woodentop

      They could even try using the dog and bone as a mystery shopper to see it they are told about fees, could even go so far as to request property details which should have fees fully disclosed, all without leaving the office.

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    2. basher52

      Last July trading standards did just that in dorset. Walked into our office (& I assume every agent in town) & noted down that we had fees displayed in the office & online.

      i helpfully pointed him in the direction of a few agents a little off the beaten track.

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      1. jeremy1960

        they did the same here, wrote to us, told us they were coming and we passed with no issues but a few days later when I asked what they were going to do about the agents that were not complying they had no answer. I then provided them with a list of agents that were not complying and they admitted that they hadn’t had time to visit all so I helped them by pointing them to the agents that were very non-compliant and they replied that they didn’t have the resources! A year and a bit on and the same agents are non-compliant!

         

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    3. A_J42

      Glad to see something is being done! I would imagine it would be difficult to get round all fifty or so agents in Swansea in one day, but actual investigation might prove more reliable than a photograph which, as you’ve said, could oh-so-easily be staged.

      Slightly sad that we don’t trust our own colleagues not to stage a photograph for the industry regulators.

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  6. The_Maluka

    “Agents that display their letting fees demonstrate to consumers that they are operating to a high standard, complying with the law and TPO’s Code, and are open in their communication.”

    This is a non sequitur, agents who display fees are merely displaying fees, in the absence of additional information no further conclusion can be drawn.

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