Undercover survey of letting agent fees in Brighton and Hove

Home Sweet Home campaigners in Brighton and Hove
Home Sweet Home campaigners in Brighton and Hove

A team of local campaigners covered a total of 67 letting agents in the area.

Members of the Home Sweet Home campaign went undercover in Brighton and Hove last Saturday to find that 80% of letting agents are potentially in breach of consumer rights law.

The team of local campaigners covered a total of 67 letting agents, and found that 55 offices may not be complying with the 2015 Consumer Rights Act, which came into force on October 1.

Letting agents who do not comply with the new requirements run the risk of council action and a £5,000 fine.

Home Sweet Home campaigners assessed the letting agents on their membership of recognised deposit protection and dispute resolution schemes, while checking their offices for the proper display of a full fee schedule.

Of the 67 offices visited, only 12 were seen to be compliant on all three counts. The biggest cause of failure related to fees, with only 15 of the 67 offices keeping a full list of fees in a place where “it is likely to be seen”.

With such a high number of letting agents under question, Home Sweet Home members intend to make their next contact by letter - clarifying the changes to the law, and recommending best practice in regard to the “prominent” display of fees.

The letters will be hand-delivered on their second round of visits in mid-November, along with Home Sweet Home certificates for the 12 agents who passed all three checks.

Summer Dean, campaign leader, said: “Our aim is to uphold the letting agents’ legal obligation to provide transparency to tenants regarding the often ‘hidden’ fees they have to pay. Our longer-term goal is to create a more open and accountable renting culture in Brighton and Hove, so that people can start to see rising standards here.”

The Home Sweet Home campaign includes local councillors, Labour party members, and concerned tenants seeking to help the cause of private renters in Brighton and Hove. They are supported by the broader organisation Movement for Change, which empowers local leaders to campaign on the issues most vital to their communities.

Delegates from both Students’ Unions have also been active in the campaign, and are working to produce a comparison table of the agency fees collected through this week’s investigation.

Tracey Hill, lead councillor for Private Rented Sector Housing, said: “The Citizens Advice Bureau reports that housing is the second biggest issue they deal with - especially regarding the private rented sector, which is growing as fewer people can afford to get onto the housing ladder. Poor living standards, rising rents and housing scarcity leave private tenants extremely vulnerable to the housing market.”

With nine million private renters in England and an estimated one-third of private rented homes failing to meet the Decent Homes Standard, Home Sweet Home taps into the momentum gathering nation-wide.

To get involved with the campaign, contact Jack Madden on jack@movementforchange.org.uk. You can also follow the developments on Twitter via #HomeSweetHome and #StickItUp.