Agents advised to display deposits as well as fees

iStock_000018651235XSmallThe deadline for compliance to the new advertising regulations for letting agents is November 1 and the advertising watchdog along with consumer organisation Which? will be paying close attention its implementation.

Agents have been informed they must "prominently" display the fees and must precisely follow the new rules.  Now the Advertising Standards Authority has suggested that deposits should be shown in adverts, alongside a clear explanation of how they are calculated.

Although deposits are categorised as separate from non-optional fees and therefore not part of the new guidance, the ASA say that landlords and letting agents are required to provide all material information to enable average consumers to make informed decisions.

"Material information is likely to include more than just the non-optional fees and charges, but also other financial information such as refundable deposits. We therefore encourage landlords and agents to include a note of the deposit and how it is calculated in their advertising."

The ASA believe the new guidelines will help prospective tenants make more informed choices and avoid being misled.

"Non-optional fees, such as administration fees, charges for inventories and reference checks, can add a significant amount to the cost of moving into a property. It's unfair if these costs are not clearly stated up-front.

The changes mean that non-optional fees have to be made clear on agent's websites, and in all other advertising media.  Any fees that can be calculated in advance will have to be included with the quoted asking rent e.g. £1500pcm + £150 admin fee per tenant.

Any non-optional fees that cannot be calculated in advance must also be clearly stated in advertisements so consumers will be able to establish how further charges will be calculated.

Where there is limited advertising space, in a tweet or sponsored search for example, advertisers will be required to provide information on additional fees through a prominent statement on either the website, a link or via a pop-up.

ASA chief executive Guy Parker said: "Renting is a big financial commitment and it's simply not fair to hide extra charges. This practice hits tenants in the pocket at a time when they need every penny they've got.

"But this isn't just an important win for them. It will also benefit letting agents and private landlords because their customers will trust them more when they're up-front about non-optional fees."

The ASA warned: "Agents should comply with both the letter and the spirit of the ruling: giving a fee a different name, grouping fees together and calling them something else, using generic statements like 'see terms and conditions', hiding the key information in small print or otherwise attempting to circumvent the spirit of the ruling, will not help achieve compliance."

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "Our investigation this year exposed letting agents acting unlawfully by not disclosing fees up-front, so we are pleased to see the ASA announcing new rules.

"Renting is now the only housing option for millions so we'll be watching carefully to ensure all agents and websites are fully transparent about their fees."

Ian Potter, managing director of ARLA, said: "ARLA has, for a long time, said that all letting agents should be clear and upfront about the fees they charge, and the services associated with those fees.

"We've worked closely with CAP and the ASA on the development of these guidelines, so the deadline and associated requirements will not come as a surprise to our members.

"As the private rental sector continues to grow, transparency around fees is vital to ensuring the letting industry is trusted by landlords and tenants alike. For this reason, transparency is part of our code of conduct and any member that doesn't adhere faces investigation by either the relevant ombudsman or disciplinary action by ARLA."

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