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OFT calls for lettings overhaul

The Office of Fair Trading is calling for an overhaul of the lettings market after analysing thousands of complaints from both landlords and tenants.

The consumer authority analysed nearly 4,000 complaints for a report which identifies a number of consumer protection issues in the lettings market, relating to fees, quality assessment and money protection mechanisms.

The OFT senior director of goods and consumer Cavendish Elithorn says: “Our findings shows that tenants and landlords are often dissatisfied with their agents but we also know that most agents want to do the right thing. It’s important that tenants ask for key information, but we also believe that Government, industry and enforcers working together can have a real impact and improve overall standards in the lettings market.

“This report sets out our view on what improvements could be made to address concerns with this market and we are keen to play our part in bringing together those involved in the lettings industry to focus efforts where they are most needed.”

The OFT wants to see lettings agencies present fees in a clear tariff of charges and work towards greater consistency within the industry.

The government is encouraged to work with the industry, enforcers and consumer bodies in the creation of an enforcement strategy for traders who are failing to comply with the law.

The creation of a general redress system would speed up the time it takes for both landlords and tenants to sort out problems as they occur.

Clients would additionally benefit from the creation of a universal quality assessment system.

The Association of Residential Lettings Agents says with the private rental sector expanding, lack of regulation and pressures on housing supply have meant some unscrupulous landlords and agents have been able to take advantage of consumers and are driving down the reputation and standards of the sector as a whole.

Arla managing director Ian Potter says: “We have long called for a central system of regulation, and would agree with a number of the OFT’s recommendations to help improve the market. In particular, agents should always be transparent about the fees they charge, and the services associated with those fees.”

Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors residential director Peter Bolton-King says: “The OFT recommend increased transparency in lettings agents’ fees and charges, and working with trading standards to develop an agreed enforcement strategy. These measures are important in creating a level playing field for all residential property professionals and consumers which RICS has long sought.”

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