News & Blog

Sean's Blog: June 15

Do you measure up?

 

Many eons ago as a fresh graduate looking at a future career, I had an interview with the Trading Standards department of a local authority near me. I remember vividly the officer who I met proudly opening a felt lined wooden box in which were displayed shiny brass weights, rules and containers all precisely manufactured to check the exact measurement required. It struck me at the time that this basic standard of proof was as absolute as is physically possible in the world of trade. Enforcement of weights and measures in England is old as the hills with legislation going back to when Saxon Kings ruled. Suffice to say I did not get the job but I have always seen the importance of applying standards fairly and consistently.

Therefore, I was intrigued when reading the new regulations on the Duty of Letting Agents to Publicise Fees in the Consumer Rights Bill 2015 to note that the enforcement agency will be the local weights and measures authority. Whilst these are effectively the 200 local Trading Standards offices across the country, the use of term weights and measures implies that, as far as the law is concerned, the proof of compliance is an absolute that can be measured against a standard. This effectively means that you have either complied or you haven’t – the matter is not open to interpretation.

The enforcement will establish whether you measure up to the exact requirements of the law and failure to demonstrate this is the case will attract a £5000 fine for each offence.  Lower penalties will only being applied in extenuating circumstance which will not include ‘I did not know about the law’ or ‘I did not know what to do’. Given that the law came in to force on May 27th 2015 and local Trading Standards are as hungry as a lion in a Roman arena for resources, are you ready for an inspection?
 

What do I have to do?  

You should ensure that ALL fees payable to you by your Landlord or Tenants are prominently displayed at your premises or on your website. The fees should be clear and specific without surcharges or hidden costs. Generic terms such as ‘administration fee’ are no longer acceptable and all charges should be displayed inclusive of tax.  In effect, your customers should be aware what you intend to charge them as soon as they walk in to your office or click on your website. If they have to ask, you’re probably not displaying them right!

In addition to fees, you should also prominently display which redress scheme you have joined and whether you have Client Money Protection (CMP). Remember that you need to display both so even if you are a member of an organisation such ARLA, NALS or UKALA just displaying their logo is not enough. CMP insurance is only available through a limited number of bodies such as those above and through two companies who sell it as a standalone product. One of these products, CMProtect is endorsed by us and is used by UKALA. You can find out more about CMP here – remember, silence on the subject of CMP is also considered breach of legislation.

To make things easier for you, ARLA have designed a template for their members to use but are happy for the generic elements to be widely replicated.  It is likely that this template will form part of the de facto box of measures that Trading Standards will use to enforce the legislation so it is important you look at it and also the full Government Guide. If you would like a more general summary of the rules, we have produced a leaflet on our website here where you can also access other useful guides and resources.

There are many Agents out there who are already fully transparent and I apologise to those that are fed up of hearing about this legislation. However, it is clear in my line of work that many Agents do not make their fees and charges clear which can lead to complaints being raised with the scheme. We have written two Case Studies (based on real complaints we have received) that highlight the importance of fee transparency and emphasize why this piece of legislation has been passed. You can read these here - hopefully these cautionary tales are a lesson in what not to do!

 

Of course, if you have any further queries about compliance or redress in general, do not hesitate to contact my team on 0333 321 9418 or info@theprs.co.uk

 

Best wishes,

 

Sean 

 

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