Keep proper journalism alive. It's time to Back the Cable
The Bristol Cable

Goodbye to unfair letting fees 

Victory for renters who for too long have had to fork out.


Victory for renters who for too long have had to fork out.

Illustration: Louis Wood

Moving is expensive. Having moved five times in the past three years I am far too familiar with the awful feeling of having to pull hundreds of pounds out of thin air to account for the next round of vampiric letting agency fees, and I’m not alone.

According to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, letting fees average at £400 per tenancy. A 2016 study by housing charity Shelter found that nearly a third of renters moved three or more times in a five-year period. The cost of moving is crippling, but when you have a limited window to find somewhere, you have no choice but to pay the check-in fee, the check-out fee, the inventory fee, the contract fee, the reference fee and so on, to ensure you have somewhere to move to when your tenancy is over.

But no more! Thanks to hard campaigning by Acorn and others, our voices have finally been heard; the introduction of the Tenancy Fees Act has seen rip-off letting fees made illegal. It also ensures that tenants cannot be charged more than five week’s rent as a security deposit and no more than one week’s rent as a holding deposit.

“The services provided by letting agents are for the landlord not the tenant and so should be paid by them”

Acorn is a community union campaigning against poverty and for better living conditions. The union has achieved significant victories locally and nationally – from winning back thousands of pounds of unfairly held deposits, to forcing banks to stop discriminating against people on housing benefits in their buy-to-let mortgage contracts, and playing an instrumental role in putting an end to Section 21 no-fault evictions.

On 1 June, when the letting fee ban came into force, myself and other Acorn members were dancing in the streets of Bristol celebrating our victory – but the fight isn’t over yet.

We also took part in a national day of action – visiting letting agents up and down the country, asking them to sign a pledge promising to comply with the ban. It may seem bizarre that these businesses would need reminding to obey the law, especially as any letting agency or landlord found in breach is liable to pay a fine of up to £5,000.

But this may not be enough of a deterrent. Despite the tenants’ fees being banned in Scotland from 2012, Scotland’s tenants’ union Living Rent have found many letting agencies are continuing to charge illegal fees. We can expect to see the same attitude to the law here.

“I was once charged an additional £50 ‘handover fee’, which amounted to me walking into the office and being physically handed a set of keys before walking out”

In one letting agent visited by Acorn members in Sheffield, there was a sign found on a noticeboard advising staff not to correct any customers who were unaware of the fees ban – effectively encouraging them to illegally charge people! The ‘Seize the Fees’ day of action on 1 June was therefore as much a warning to letting agents that we have our eye on them as a celebration of winning the ban.

Letting agents have of course protested, saying that the charges will have to be absorbed by landlords, and that might scare them out of the market. The services provided by letting agents are for the landlord not the tenant and so should be paid by them. Maybe having to pay for changing of tenants will encourage landlords to offer longer more stable tenancies!

Letting agents know that the real cost of the services they provide is negligible to a landlord. They are upset because they know that faced with someone in need of a home, they were able to charge the earth for whatever service they decided to call company policy.

I was once charged an additional £50 ‘handover fee’, which amounted to me walking into the office and being physically handed a set of keys before walking out. What else could I do but pay it? I needed somewhere to live. I’d like to see them try to pull the same trick on a landlord whose business relationship with them doesn’t determine whether or not they have a roof over their head.

So despite this victory, the fight continues. With rents still rising while landlords continue to leave homes in disrepair, it is more important than ever to join the union, fight back and win.

Join 2,500 Cable members redefining local media

Your support will help the Cable grow, deepening our connections in the city and investigating the issues that matter most in our communities.

Join now

What makes us different?


Report a comment. Comments are moderated according to our Comment Policy.

  • the problem that tenants may find is that letting agents are increasing fees to landlords with the recommendation that without the tenant fees, they can secure new tenants and recommend that landlords increase their rents


Post a comment

Mark if this comment is from the author of the article

By posting a comment you agree to our Comment Policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related content

Inclusive or exclusive: can community-led housing schemes provide for people most in need?

In recent years Bristol has seen the development of several new community-led housing schemes, which are often driven by small resident groups – but also aim to house people in need of a social home. How is the model working out – and with funds shrinking, does it have a future?

Bristol rogue landlord rented out room despite banning order, tenants say

Naomi Knapp was prohibited from renting out her properties to new tenants in 2022, but the Cable has uncovered evidence to suggest she brought in new tenants anyway.

‘I can do action’: cafe owner who organised tower block evacuation response aiming to be councillor

When she heard Barton House was being evacuated in November, Cafe Conscious owner Deniece Dixon got to work helping families who had become homeless. Two months on, she explains why she’s set her sights on City Hall

Exclusive: Banned rogue landlord under council investigation for listing properties on Airbnb

Holiday lettings firm removes listings after Cable investigation uncovers evidence showing Naomi Knapp's homes have been available to let on its website, via a third party.

Bristol raises £10k for Barton House residents in 48hrs

A Cable crowdfund to support the residents of Barton House is 1,200% funded - and counting.

Analysis: The national high-rise saga behind Barton House’s emergency evacuation

Housing journalist Peter Apps, who has written for years about Grenfell, explains how even the sudden collapse of a similar high rise block in London 50 years failed to spark enough action to make other towers safe.

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday

Join our newsletter

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter

Get our latest stories & essential Bristol news
sent to your inbox every Saturday morning