Shelter deserves more than 140 characters to explain why lettings agents are pissed off

Thursday, March 28, 2013 by Ed Mead

Let’s not beat about the bush. Shelter have done a great job for almost 50 years in highlighting bad conditions and practices in the housing industry, and doing their best to advise tenants and those unlucky enough not to have a home at all.

Things have improved out of all proportion since then and the balance of power HAS moved away from the archetypal slum landlord and a combination of domestic and EU legislation has helped. I am no stranger to the fact that using sensation can draw attention to a cause but it irks when well-meaning polls are misused and opinion formers like Shelter misdirect their energy.

  I have two hats on here, as a Board member of the Property Ombudsman we have been trying for years to get the OFT to approve a small change to the wording of the Consumer Code which would bring ALL lettings agents into necessary redress, which is really what everyone wants. If you are a tenant and you have an issue the fact that you can take the agent to redress is of import and what we all want. To their credit Shelter could help hugely in doing that and are putting pressure on Vince Cable to do so.

  However, if you read the widely circulated Shelter banner below you’d be forgiven for believing that almost 11 million people, 1 in 4 of UK adults, has been ripped off.

  To quote from their website “In a recent YouGov poll, one in four British people said they’d been ripped off by a letting agent. A survey on our own website also revealed that 88 per cent of respondents have paid extra fees above and beyond their deposit. More than 1,100 people have responded so far, but we still need more of you to get involved.”

  Well, that simply doesn’t bear any kind of scrutiny, The Property Ombudsman has 9748 lettings offices in England & Wales registered, c. 60% of the total lettings agents we believe, each of which conducts a conservative 4 lettings deals a month. That’s c. 467000 lets a year, with a landlord and tenant on each side. Tenants made 1600 complaints last year about unfair fees, that’s 0.3% of the total, a far out of sight cry from the 25% claimed.

I’m not going to go into puerile arguments about lettings agents “losing profits” as that’s absurd. Proper agents, the vast majority, use the money they get from prospective tenants to do what you’d expect, take up references so that the landlord doesn’t get ripped off and draw up an agreement. If Shelter can’t see the sense in that then the issue must be either spiteful or political, neither of which applies their muscle in the way it should. Unfair fees are unfair and fair fees are fair, it’s plain English and we should strive for that. Redress is the way forward and until Shelter stops impugning the reputation of the vast majority of lettings agents because some rogues get away with bad practice then I’m afraid Douglas & Gordon will suspend financial support, as have many others.