Letting agents breached law, survey found

Cllr Bill Bentley
Cllr Bill Bentley

Three quarters of letting agents surveyed in a Trading Standards probe risked a fine by failing to provide information they are legally required to.

East Sussex County Council Trading Standards officers visited more than 70 letting agents and looked at their websites to check they complied with the Consumer Rights Act, which came into force in 2016.

The Act requires agents to display online and in store all their fees – including VAT, which redress scheme they’re a member of in case agents can’t resolve a complaint and whether or not customers’ cash is protected by a money protection scheme.

However, 75 per cent of agents visited were missing at least one piece of information, leaving them liable under the law to a penalty charge notice of up to £5,000.

The most common error was failing to say which redress scheme an agent was a member of but, more alarmingly, more than a fifth of agents did not display all their fees, or displayed fees excluding VAT, which could mislead customers.

All the letting agents visited correctly displayed the required information after being informed of their error, but agents are warned they may not be shown the same leniency in future.

Cllr Bill Bentley, East Sussex County Council lead member for communities and safety, said “It is a challenge for potential tenants to find lettable property at an affordable rent.

“To then have to wrestle with missing or misleading information will impact on their rights and the affordability of letting agreements, this is not something that I wish to see in Sussex.

“I hope this work by Trading Standards will bring an immediate improvement in the way letting agents’ information is provided so customers and landlords can be confident in their choices.”

The survey included visits to letting agents in Eastbourne, Hastings and St Leonards, Hailsham, Lewes, Peacehaven and Newhaven.