The Welsh government has launched a consultation on proposals to ban letting agents from charging fees to tenants.
It now looks likely that tenant fees will be banned throughout the UK.
Scotland already has a ban in place and the Westminster government has committed to introducing a ban in England, likely to take effect next year. Northern Ireland had a consultation on a proposed ban which closed in April.
Meanwhile, in the London borough of Hackney, all 143 letting agents have been written to by the council asking them to scrap fees voluntarily, ahead of the legal ban.
Housing chief Cllr Sem Moema is optimistic that agents will sign up: “We don’t have any legal jurisdiction but we can say, ‘This is the right thing to do.’”
Hackney is thought to be the first council to make such a move. One agent, Julian Reid, has already scrapped fees and is fronting the campaign.
Local paper the Hackney Citizen has sent out an appeal to readers: “Have you been affected by letting agency fees in Hackney? Tell us your horror stories.”
Meanwhile, the consultation in Wales follows pressure from the likes of Shelter.
In March 2016, Shelter Cymru published a report Letting go: why it’s time for Wales to ban letting agents’ fees.
It said that there were large variances between fees charged to tenants ranging from the lowest fee of £39.99 to the highest of £480.
The report found that one in three tenants who used letting agents paid over £200 in fees to begin a tenancy.
The consultation document says that “in terms of reforming the private rental sector, the Welsh government has already gone much further than other parts of the UK in regulating landlords and letting agents through Rent Smart Wales”.
This is a compulsory scheme by which all landlords must be registered, and all letting agents must be licensed. Many landlords will also have to be licensed, a requirement if they perform property management duties.
The consultation says that while letting agents are required to display their fees, a mystery shopping exercise showed that half did not.
The Welsh government said it believes many fees charged to tenants to be “unjustified and arbitrary”.
The consultation asks a number of questions aimed at determining “which fees, if any, are justifiably being charged to tenants”.
It also seeks information on fees paid by landlords to agents, and on the possible consequences of a fees ban.
Yesterday, ARLA Propertymark boss David Cox said his organisation would be responding to the consultation “and is continuing to pursue the Welsh government to ensure that they understand that this is not a black and white issue. Banning fees will ultimately cost tenants more”.
He appealed for agents to make their individual voices heard alongside ARLA Propertymark’s collective response.
The consultation closes on September 27.