Council and trading standards officials have told MPs that penalties for letting agents and landlords flouting the planned tenants’ fees ban should be higher.
Officials said they wanted rogue landlords and agents to see the fines as a deterrent, and also warned that they would need to be more substantial in order to fund the resources needed to enforce the rules.
The Draft Tenants’ Fees Bill proposes penalties of £5,000 for an initial breach of the ban and up to £30,000 for repeat offenders.
But the Communities and Local Government Committee heard evidence from council and Trading Standards officials yesterday, warning that some landlords just see the fines as an “occupational hazard”.
Alison Farrar, lead officer at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, who also sits on the National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team (NTSEAT) at Powys County Council, said more resources were needed if the ban was to be properly enforced.
She said: “Fees need to be on a sliding scale and a reflection of how much consumer detriment there is.
“It would make sense to not start at too low a level.
“They need to be prohibitive enough to stop them from happening again.
“The penalties are not sufficient to cover the cost of the work but we also wouldn’t want Trading Standards to be accused of doing the work just to obtain money from the fines – that is not the reason we do it.
“There is also all the preventative work that is never accounted for. It is very expensive and the local authority cuts make it more and more difficult.”
She said it would be easier if the Bill introduced a lead authority combining estate and letting agents as there is overlap in their work.
Farrar added that this can’t currently happen as NTSEAT sits in Wales where a ban is being worked on separately.
MPs also heard from council officials including Andy Fisher, head of housing, health and communities at Boston Borough Council. He said a sliding framework would be more appropriate so local authorities could set their own level.
He also questioned whether local housing authorities were better placed to take charge of enforcement rather than Trading Standards as they work with agents more regularly.
MPs also asked whether councils had enough enforcement powers, but participants said it was having enough money and properly trained staff that was the bigger issue.
Cllr Clare Salier, cabinet member for housing at the London Borough of Wandsworth, said there were issues around tenants knowing what they were able to report but said officials have to look at how much they are getting back for the cost of carrying out prosecutions.