An update from TPO regarding the ASA's recent ruling relating to the inclusion of tenant fees in advertisements
The recent ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) relating to advertisements from Your Move lettings together with the Which? mystery shopping report of four letting agents have once again brought the issue of disclosure of fees imposed on tenants to the forefront of the current debate about the Private Rented Sector.
The TPO Code of Practice for Residential Letting Agents (paragraphs 4f and 4g) makes clear that property advertisements must comply with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) and the ASA's Advertising Code. The ASA's recent ruling is based on specific points of its Code which take into account the requirements of the CPRs.
Meaningful disclosure of fees according to the circumstances of the particular transaction and the obligation to make consumers aware of those fees are principles which are already enshrined in paragraph 6g of the TPO Code of Practice. The TPO Code received stage 1 OFT approval (under their Consumer Codes Approval Scheme) almost two years ago and provides clear guidance for agents on all aspects of their business. However, the application of CPRs is a developing situation which the Code will need to take into account.
As regards to the ASA ruling, whilst recognising that transparency is key, TPO understands the complexities of displaying potentially variable fees within an advertisement. To that end it is vital that the industry has a proper understanding of the ruling to avoid the potential for issuing misleading guidance that does not adequately equip agents to conform and could lead to further complaints. Accordingly, the Ombudsman is in contact with the Committee on Advertising Practice to discuss how the ruling can be applied in practice. In order to ensure consistency of message throughout the industry (and therefore for its consumers) the Ombudsman expects ARLA, RICS and UKALA to be involved in the discussions. As regards to TPO in particular, we may need to refine aspects of the TPO Code of Practice for Residential Letting Agents and therefore have to be certain as to what amendments may be required.