1 in 4 Britons ripped off by letting agents

Almost  1 in 4 British people have been ripped off by a letting agent, new research from Shelter reveals today.

In a YouGov poll of 5379 adults commissioned by the housing charity, 23% - equivalent to 11 million people - said they had been charged unfair fees by letting agents in England.

The fee that most people said they’d been unfairly charged for was for ‘administration’ (14% of British people affected) followed by fees charged for credit checks (10%) and fees for renewing a contract (8%).

The survey forms part of an investigation by Shelter into the unfair fees charged by letting agents.

Some of the shocking cases uncovered by the charity include:
• Renters charged over £150 for repeat credit checks every year. Shelter research suggests that credit checks cost letting agents between £8 and £25 to run.
• People charged £100 each time they view a property
• Ex-letting agent staff who admit to fabricating fees to increase their profits
• Renters charged up to £540 for non-refundable ‘administration’ fees
• Letting agents double-charging fees for the same service to landlords and tenants.

The top reason why those who have been unfairly charged by a letting agent, or know somebody who has, felt the fees were unfair was that they were out of proportion to the cost or amount of work done by the letting agent (52%).

Kay Boycott, Director of Campaigns, Policy and Communications at Shelter, said: “It’s scandalous that some letting agents are creaming off huge profits from the boom in private renting by charging both tenants and landlords fees that are totally out of proportion to the service they provide.

“With our investigation uncovering unexplained charges of over £500, we need to make sure that letting agent fees are reasonable. With costs like these, on top of the sky-high rents that families already face, it’s no surprise that many dread the day they have to look for a new place to rent.”

Shelter is calling on renters and landlords to visit www.shelter.org.uk/lettingagents to share their own experience to join the fight against unfair fees.

Angelique Atkinson, a renter from Hampshire, paid £540 in administration costs when she rented a home with her partner. She said: “We didn’t receive any justification for these extortionate fees, and ended up having to pay nearly £3,000 upfront, making a huge dent in our finances. I have nowhere I can complain to and be taken seriously. We can’t afford to buy our own home; renting is so expensive that it seems impossible to save for a deposit. The rental market is a horrible place right now.”

Shelter’s investigations have also found landlords hit by bad practice from letting agents. Abdul Motin, a landlord from London, said: “A letting agent who was supposed to be renting out my home has ripped me off for £9,000, and we’re now struggling to meet the mortgage. The letting agents falsified the tenants’ references, withheld the rent and deposit from me, and have now dissolved their company. This is the only property I own and I’ll never rent it out again. This has been a living nightmare for me and my family.”

Notes to editors

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 5379 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 10th - 14th August 2012.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

23% of GB adults have been charged unfair fees by a letting agent in England. This is equivalent to 10.9 million people.

The top three fees affecting British people are:
1. ‘Administration’ fees: 6.6 million people (14%) affected
2. Credit check fees: 4.6 million people (10%) affected
3. Fees for renewing a contract: 3.7 million (8%) affected

The top three reasons that people who had been charged unfairly, or know somebody who has, thought fees were unfair are:
1. The fee was disproportionate to the cost or amount of work done by the letting agent (52%)
2. The fee was unexpected (17%)
3. The fee did not reflect the level of customer service I received (10%)

The estimate of 10.9 million adults is based on 2010 population estimates (the latest available) from the Office of National Statistics which indicate that there are 47.8 million adults in Great Britain. http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/publications/re-reference-tables.html?edition=tcm%3A77-231847 (open file named “mid-2010-unformatted-data-file”).  Estimates have been rounded.
The cost of credit checking to landlords is taken from a 2012 report by Shelter Scotland into credit referencing services across the UK.

Want more information? Contact us:

t: 020 7505 2162 (Office hours)
m: 07850 901 142 (out of hours)
e: press_office@shelter.org.uk