I have previously written about the recent Advertising Standards Association ruling on the fees charged to tenants by letting agents. Yesterday (10 September) the Committee of Advertising Practice, which is the body who actually writes the advertising code which is enforced by ASA, indicated it had written to the main letting agent trade bodies with guidance on fee advertising.
This guidance is limited and non-binding. In other words it is possible to follow the guidance and still be in breach of the advertising code and be ruled against by the ASA.
The guidance is not particularly surprising and echoes things I have said elsewhere. Essentially it is necessary to make clear that there are additional fees payable in all cases. In short communication where space is at a premium (ie. Twitter) this might involve adding the phrase “+ fees” after the rental price being sought. However, where space is less constricted the means of calculating those fees should be made clear. Where an abbreviated form of information has been adopted (such as on Twitter) there should be a link to a page where the fuller information is available. Where space allows the fees should be set out in full if at all possible. So where a charge is easily calculated it should be set out in full. The example given by CAP is adding “+ £150 admin fee per tenant”. If the fees are less easy to calculate then a phrase like “other fees may apply” may be appropriate. However, this phrase ought only to be used where there are circumstances in which no fee might apply rather than in a case where a fee will always be applicable but is not easy to calculate.
It should be remembered that the code of advertising practice, and this guidance, extend to all advertising and not just that on the internet. Therefore print advertising will also need to be clear about fees. Where space is limited such as in newspapers or window cards the phrase “+ fees” will presumably be acceptable. Where more space is available such as on property particulars then more details will need to be given.
For agents this will mean an adjustment to their advertising. CAP has given the industry until 1 November 2013 to resolve this issue. I would strongly recommend that agents do not delay in this and put a process in place urgently. Many agents may also elect to simplify their charging structures in order to make this advertising process easier.
Agents should also note that the CLG Select Committee recently reported on the private rented sector. They did not recommend a ban on fees to tenants as in Scotland, but they stated that they would keep the situation under review. They did recommend that the letting agent redress scheme that will soon appear (my post here) should include a robust code of conduct which will also require fee transparency.