New enforcement team for fees ban

New enforcement team for fees ban.jpg

With the ban on tenant fees nearly here, it was recently announced that a new team has been set up to police all estate and letting agent legislation going forward. 

It was recently revealed that a new body will take over from the old National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team (NTSEAT) in policing all the legislation affecting estate and letting agents, in particular the soon-to-be introduced ban on fees charged to tenants.

Expanding on NTSEAT’s remit, the new enforcement team - which is being led by National Trading Standards - will provide ‘a single combined enforcement function to protect consumers and legitimate businesses in the property sector’.

In its launch statement, it was revealed that the National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agency Team, funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, will act as the lead enforcement authority for the purposes of the Estate Agents Act 1979 and the Tenant Fees Act 2019.

Bristol City Council will lead letting agency regulation covering England, while estate agency enforcement (across the whole of the UK) will continue to be operated from Powys County Council. The new enforcement team will also work closely with local authorities who have enforcement responsibilities.

What will the team be responsible for?

The new body will chiefly be responsible for the regulation of estate agency work in the UK and letting agency work in England. 

This will specifically relate to issuing prohibition and formal warning orders to those found unfit to engage in estate agency work in the UK, overseeing the operation of relevant estate and letting agency legislation, issuing guidance and advice for the public, businesses and enforcement authorities on estate agency work in the UK and relevant letting agency work in England, and approving and overseeing the UK’s consumer redress schemes, Ombudsmen, and ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution’ entities in the estate agency sector.

Heather Wheeler, Housing Minister and MP for South Derbyshire, added: “We are determined to make the private rented sector a fairer, more accessible market that works for all and I am delighted that local authorities will now be able to access the best advice and information from this new team. There is no place for unfair fees – now, with this new enforcement authority, we will be able to stamp them out.”

On its new website, the National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agency Team outlines guidance for landlords and agents in relation to the Tenant Fees Act 2019 – which comes into play across England from June 1 this year. 

Support from the industry

The new regulatory body was backed by ARLA Propertymark, despite thelettings agents’ fees ban and deposit cap being policed by Trading Standards officers from Bristol City Council, who have – along with various community organisations in the city - been viewed by some in the industry as strongly anti-landlord and anti-letting agent in recent years.

In a statement, ARLA supported the move to make Bristol Trading Standards the lead enforcement authority for the private rented sector.

“We welcome today’s announcement of the Lead Enforcement Authority, and hope this is a major step forward in improving enforcement in the private rented sector,” David Cox, the trade body’s chief executive, said. “There is a severe lack of prosecution in the industry, allowing rogue agents to operate and thrive. We look forward to building a constructive working relationship with the Lead Enforcement Authority to eliminate these agents from the sector once and for all.”

The fees ban – a quick recap

One of the most controversial and divisive pieces of new legislation of recent times – the Tenant Fees Act 2019 – officially comes into force on the first day of June. 

From that point on, landlords and letting agents working on their behalf will only be able to charge certain fees in connection to a tenancy, including rent, a refundable tenancy deposit capped at no more than five weeks’ rent where the annual rent is less than £50,000, or six weeks’ rent where the total annual rent is £50,000 or above, and a refundable holding deposit (to reserve a property) capped at no more than one week’s rent. 

Landlords and agents can also levy fees for a change to the tenancy (when requested by the tenant), capped at £50 or ‘reasonable costs incurred if higher’, payments associated with early termination of the tenancy (when requested by the tenant), and payments for utilities, communication services, TV licence and council tax. Additionally, a default fee can be charged for late payment of rent and replacement of a lost key or security device, where stated under a tenancy agreement. 

Landlords and agents who charge unlawful fees are liable to face financial penalties or even criminal convictions.