Newham

Newham council highly commended at MJ awards

22 June 2016 in 2012 Games and legacy and Events and Housing
Trading Standards officers from Newham Council who have been tackling rogue letting agents and driving up standards in the rental sector have been highly commended for their work at a local authority awards ceremony.
The Fair Lettings team were among six finalists in the Trading Standards and Environmental Health category of the Municipal Journal (MJ) Awards, held last night (Thursday 16 June) in London. The MJ, a publication which writes about local government, have been holding an awards ceremony since 2004. The awards, which are judged by commentators from both the public and private sector, provide recognition for best practice as well as pioneering and innovative work within councils.

The team, who have been battling to ensure letting agents provide a fair and transparent service to both tenants and landlords, came runners up in the category.

Over the two years officers have been working alongside the council’s private rented sector (PRS) licensing team and inspecting every letting agent in the borough. They have been ensuring the agents are complying with consumer protection legislation, including: displaying fees transparently to customers, providing fair terms and conditions for both tenants and landlords, informing tenants about the PRS licensing scheme, protecting deposits and registering with a government-backed redress scheme.

Their work has supported the council’s PRS licensing team which focuses on tackling rogue and criminal landlords who exploit tenants living in rental accommodation.

Initially the team found that of the almost 200 letting agents in the borough, only a quarter of them were complying with regulations. Many were falsely claiming to belong to accreditation schemes and provided little or no protection of tenants’ deposits or landlords’ properties.

In November 2014, after several visits to the borough’s agents, the council was the first in the country to issue fixed penalty notices to letting agents who had failed to register with a government-backed redress scheme – 11 letting agents were issued with fines up to £5,000.

By the end of the year, the majority of the letting agents in the borough had complied with regulations, 15 per cent of the worst had ceased trading and 100 per cent of the remaining had signed up with a redress scheme.

Councillor Andrew Baikie, mayoral advisor for housing, said: “As the housing crisis deepens, renting in London is fast becoming the only option for many people who want to live and work in the capital. Newham Council has been at the forefront of protecting tenants from exploitation.

“Our Fair Lettings team have made huge strides in driving up standards in the borough’s lettings industry alongside our ground-breaking private rented sector licensing team. Through this work, tenants in Newham are now more protected than ever and council officers stand ready to help anyone who is experiencing problems with an agent or landlord.”

The team’s work continues as new letting agents appear in the borough almost every day. Anyone with any concerns about a lettings agent can contact trading standards officers by emailing Trading.Standards@newham.gov.uk