The Advertising Standards Authority has called on letting agents to disclose admin fees in their property ads. This follows a recent ASA ruling which found that a letting agent had not provided sufficient information about their fees in their online ads. While detailed guidance on the full implications of the ruling is being drawn up, this article covers the main changes you’ll need to make.

What was the ruling about?
The complaints were centred on the fact that the ads quoted monthly rental prices but did not state that a compulsory admin fee was payable. The advertiser argued that it was not able to calculate the fee in advance and that it was unnecessary to mention admin fees until a viewing had been arranged, adding that they provided full information on all fees and charges at that stage.

However, the ASA ruled that it was important for consumers to be given more information about fees because the fees would affect their decision about whether to arrange a viewing. In this circumstance, the non-optional fee could not be calculated in advance, so the ad should have made clear that it was excluded from the quoted price and explained how it was calculated (rule 3.19).

So, what does this mean for letting agents?
In future, when quoting rental prices in ads, all letting agents must make clear whether compulsory charges are payable, and must do this from the first time a price is mentioned. In doing this, letting agents must clarify what the charges are for and how much they cost (where they can be calculated in advance). For example a property advertised at £1,500 per-calendar-month which requires each tenant to pay a £150 administration fee should be advertised as £1,500 pcm + £150 admin fee per tenant.

For those charges that cannot be calculated in advance (e.g. those that are based on an individual’s circumstances) ads must make clear that additional compulsory fees are payable and provide adequate information for consumers to establish how these fees are calculated. Of course, some ads are limited by time and space and it may not be possible to include all the relevant information within those ads (e.g. Google search ads). In those situations we expect advertisers to state that a rental price is “plus fees” and provide the relevant information as soon as possible (e.g. prominently on the landing page).

This ruling means that potential tenants will have the information they need in the first instance to help them make a better informed choice between the competitive offerings of different letting agents. In the meantime, we’re continuing to work with the industry and other regulators to help clarify the implications of the ruling and how to achieve compliance.

Further advice on compulsory costs and charges is set out in the CAP guidance Compulsory costs and charges: General.

You can read the ASA’s press release on the adjudication here.

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