An estate agent arranges a photographic display of exteriors and interiors of available residential properties in London, U.K., on Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. U.K. house prices rose in December and will extend gains in 2014, led by London and southeast England, Hometrack Ltd. said. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Tenants in the private rented sector pay letting agents an average fee of £337, according to Citizens Advice, which is calling for a Scottish-style ban on charges for services that are part of the routine letting and management services.

Its research found that fees charged to tenants varied “wildly and inexplicably” and bore “no discernible relationship to the cost of the service provided.” Over half of renters were dissatisfied with the service provided by agents, although that is fewer than a similar survey recorded in 2009.

The charity also said agents should be forced to belong to a trade body and there should be a single redress scheme.

Citizens Advice said there had been some improvements recently; rules on deposit protection have been tightened up, while since October last year it has been mandatory to belong to one of three redress schemes. Letting agents are also now required to make their tenant fees clear.

However, this has had little impact on the actual level of fees. “Renters do not choose between letting agents, they choose between properties. This is why competition and transparency have no bite on tenant fees,” the report said. “From a tenant’s perspective, fees are at best an afterthought and at worst an unavoidable imposition, arising only once a deposit, contract or living arrangement is already in place.”

The Association of Residential Letting Agents said that its own research found that 74 per cent of licensed letting agents charged tenants no more than £250 in fees.

“These fees cover the cost of essential items during the lettings agreement process such as reference checks, the drafting of the tenancy agreement, and the management of tenancy extension or renewal,” said David Cox, Arla’s managing director.

“Of course, there are some landlords and agents that do take advantage of the cost of tenant fees . . . We want to see tenants paying a fair price for the service they receive, and we support openness and transparency when it comes to fees.”

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