Thirty letting agents across one of Britain’s major towns have been fined by the council’s Trading Standards department after failing to stick to new transparency guidelines.
The agents – almost one third of all those in Milton Keynes – had not been displaying their fees as required by law.
Their collective fines add up to £36,000.
All of the agents in the town were initially contacted and reminded of their legal duty to display fees – but worryingly, many did not know they had to.
Rightmove lists 108 sales and lettings agents in Milton Keynes, the figure broadly in line with the 105 contacted by Trading Standards.
Trading Standards acted after new legislation in 2015 under the Consumer Rights Act, which requires letting agents to be transparent about the fees they charge tenants.
Throughout last year, Trading Standards officers carried out research to see if agents in the borough were displaying the required information.
They discovered that many of the agents were not aware of the new legislation and what it meant for them.
Trading Standards then wrote to all of them, with an explanation of their responsibilities and a warning of financial penalties should they fail to comply.
Two months later officers followed up the letters with visits to the letting agents.
While most – 75 – had heeded the advice and displayed their fees correctly, 30 agents had not and were breaching the Consumer Rights Act.
Cllr Mick Legg, the cabinet member responsible for Trading Standards, said: “In these days of very high mortgage costs, many people are renting – and many of them really are in the hands of letting agents.
“It is important that information about fees is absolutely transparent from the start and our Trading Standards team tried to work with local agents when the Consumer Rights Act came into force, to ensure that they were aware of their responsibilities to enable would-be tenants to receive the information they are entitled to when choosing which agent to use.
“It’s disappointing that, despite warnings from our Trading Standards team, some letting agents still failed to comply with the new Consumer Rights legislation.
“However, we hope these fines will send a strong message to letting agents across the borough to get their house in order.”
All 30 agents received fines from Trading Standards for their continued failure to comply with the legislation, two of whom appealed to the First Tier Tribunal, but were dismissed earlier this month (Feb 3) by the hearing judge.
The judge also ordered them to immediately start complying with the law, which also requires agents to display which redress scheme they are signed up to, and whether they offer Client Money Protection.
Last month, EYE reported on a similar crackdown by Trading Standards in Thurrock, Essex.