The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has launched a broadside at letting agents, saying tenants are being routinely ripped off and let down by a system that allows them to operate completely unchecked.
The charity has called on the Government to go further in its attempts to regulate letting agents, to eliminate unjustified and excessive charges and to improve a service that is described as often being poor or non-existent.
In a report, entitled Let down, the CAB says tenants have to pay letting agents an unjustified amount of money on top of their rent, usually for tasks that are already part of the routine business of letting and managing a property.
Figures revealed 94 per cent of letting agents imposed up to seven additional charges on tenants, adding up to over £600 in some cases.
These included a non-returnable holding deposit, a deposit administration charge, an administration fee and a tenancy renewal fee.
Furthermore, charges for checking references ranged from just £10 to £275, while fees for renewing a tenancy were anything from £12 to £200. The report also found the problem of double charging by agents, with tenants and landlords being charged for the same service, has become significant.
Almost three quarters (73 per cent) of tenants in the survey said they were unhappy with their letting agent's service, with common problems being unjustified charges and delays in repairs.
"Government plans to regulate letting agents don't go far enough. They must include a ban on additional charges, which can be a huge barrier for people on low and even average incomes," said CAB chief executive, David Harker.
"The charges often bear little or no relation to the cost of the work involved and in some cases letting agents appear to make them up as they go along."
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