The official database of rogue agents and landlords is to be introduced on October 1, it has been confirmed – and those on it could include agents who continue to charge fees to tenants.
Answering written questions put by Lib Dem peer Baroness Grender, government minister Lord Bourne did not rule this out. He also strongly implied that agents who continue to charge fees after the ban could be criminalised.
Baroness Grender, whose private member’s Renters Rights Bill is currently going through Parliament and which proposed a ban on letting agent fees ahead of the announcement in the Autumn Statement, asked: “Will letting agents that continue to charge fees after the ban announced in the Autumn Statement has been introduced be listed on the database of rogue landlords and property agents provided for in the Housing and Planning Act 2016?”
Lord Bourne said that the Government is consulting about “which criminal offences should be regarded as banning order offences and be included on the database”.
In another question, Baroness Grender asked whether the ban would “include all fees” and whether the ban would apply throughout a tenant’s residency.
Lord Bourne said: “While most letting and managing agents provide a good service, a minority of agents offer a poor service and engage in unacceptable practices.
“The Government is keen to see tenants receiving a good service from their landlord and letting agent, and that is why we announced in the Autumn Statement a ban on letting agent fees paid by tenants in England. This will support better competition in the market and bring down overall costs.
“Tenants will be better able to search around for properties that suit their budget and there will be no hidden costs. This may be preferable to tenants being hit with upfront charges that can be difficult for them to afford.
“The Government will consult in the New Year on the detail of how best to implement a ban.”
Baroness Grender also asked whether the database of rogue agents and landlords would include those who have committed an offence or only those who have been banned.
Lord Bourne replied: “The database of rogue landlords and property agents will contain details of landlords and property agents who have been served with a banning order, or have been convicted of a banning order offence, or have received two or more civil penalties.”
The database, now less than ten months away, has come under heavy criticism because, as things stand, it will only be accessible to local and central government, and not to members of the public or agents wishing, for example, to recruit new members of staff.
Meanwhile, a ban on letting agent fees in Wales could be drawing closer with two backbench Labour AMs, Jenny Rathbone and Mike Hedges, applying to take part in a ballot which, if they win, will allow them to propose a Bill to ban the fees.
Hedges said the fees are “a tax on some of the poorest people in society who are engaged in private rented accommodation”.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We are happy to consider how legislation on this might work.
“We want to look at the evidence from Scotland and see wider consultation to ensure that a ban on fees does not push rental costs up.”