Meet Julie, from Watford. When her landlord decided to sell up, she searched for a new home to live in with her young son. She pulled together the deposit and rent in advance, but was suddenly asked to pay seven hundred pounds in letting agency fees. Some more fortunate may have savings to fall back on, but Julie didn’t. Like twenty seven per cent of renters using a letting agency, Julie would’ve had to borrow money or use a loan to cover the fees – or face losing her new home altogether.
Julie’s story isn’t out of the ordinary. Last year we conducted an investigation into the fees charged by letting agencies and received hundreds of stories just like hers. We heard from people who were being pushed into debt by letting agency fees, or forced to stay in damp or overcrowded homes because they couldn’t afford to move. One in four people told us letting fees stopped them from getting a new home.
With renting families nine times as likely to have moved in the last year as families who own their own home, many face paying out fees again and again – money that they just can’t afford to lose. An unexpected letting fee of a couple of hundred pounds is often all that’s needed to trigger a spiral into debt.
That’s why last month we launched a campaign to end letting fees to renters, to help those for whom renting isn’t a choice, but the only option. So far, over ten thousand people have signed our petition calling for politicians to act.
With Scotland and parts of Australia outlawing letting agencies from charging fees to renters, support is growing for England to follow suit. There have been calls for action from councillors, MPs, private landlords (such as Dorrington, a large residential landlord who came out in support of our campaign), as well as from letting agencies who operate successful businesses without charging renters.
Some people have asked why landlords are supporting our campaign – aren’t we campaigning on behalf of renters? But it’s easy to forget that landlords are being short-changed too. Many landlords are unhappy that letting agencies are double charging both them and the tenant for setting up the tenancy. They’re paying a fee expecting the agency to act in their interests – so when tenants pay fees too, whose interests are they serving?
Yesterday, ex-Labour Housing Minister John Healey laid down a private members bill in Parliament calling for an end to letting agency fees being charged to renters. This bill has cross-party support, with a growing number of MPs and peers from all parties recognising the inadequate protections in the lettings market and the impact of eye-watering charges being levelled on renters, on top of what the landlord has already paid.
The bill will return to parliament in October, as our campaign to end letting fees continues to grow.