“We know that this one change will not fix the private rented sector. Without strong rent controls, there is still the risk that agents will pass on the cost of fees in the form of rent hikes.
“For too many, the private rented sector remains insecure, unaffordable, and discriminatory. Today we’re celebrating a step in the right direction for renters; now the growing renters’ movement needs to keep building its power so we can transform the housing system for good.”
Acorn, a community union, said it believed some agents were planning to flout the law and continue to charge tenants the upfront fees, which average at £300.
Nick Ballard, national organiser for Acorn, said: “Other than the celebration, today was about putting letting agents on notice, because we know a lot of them will still try to charge fees. We’ll be watching them if they do break the law.”
Scepticism over the enforcement of the new laws centres around what campaigners claim are ongoing attempts to charge such fees in Scotland, even though they were in effect banned in 2012.
“It is unlawful to charge anything other than rent and deposit in Scotland, but unfortunately there’s a complete lack of enforcement,” said Sean Baillie, lead organiser for Living Rent in Scotland. “What we’re finding is that letting agents will charge small fees for signing or continuing, as well as direct debit fees, reference fees, admin fees, and opaque fees with no breakdown. People are often desperate to get a house, so they sign these contracts.”
He added that in the vast majority of cases, letting agents returned the fees when challenged by campaigners.
The law change in England and Wales comes almost three years after the government first promised to end the practice of prospective tenants being forced to pay charges before they could sign a lease.