Tory Housing Minister attacked ban on letting fees just weeks before banning them

Gavin Barwell had claimed the policy would cause rents to rise

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The Conservative Housing Minister claimed that a ban on letting agency fees would lead to higher rents just weeks before announcing the policy, it has emerged.

In late September Gavin Barwell said a ban on the charges was a “bad idea” during a discussion about housing on social media.

“Landlords would pass costs to tenants via rent. We’re looking at other ways to cut upfront costs and raise standards,” he said on 19 September.

The Treasury announced overnight that Wednesday’s Autumn Statement would contain a ban on such fees, however.

Mr Barwell defended his previous attacks on the policy, arguing that he was bound by collective responsibility when he made the previous comments. 

“It is the nature of the job that you have to defend current policy even when you're working to change it,” he said.

Referencing another housing policy dropped by the Government this week, he said: “You could equally quote me defending Pay To Stay a few months ago.”

Labour’s shadow housing minister John Healey seized on Mr Barwell’s previous comments, tweeting: “We’ll back Hammond if he borrow from Labour to ban letting fees… he’ll need our support if his own Housing Minister is still against it!”

Landlord and letting agents’ groups attacked the policy but it was welcomed by housing charities and campaigners.

The hated charges, levied on renters on top of deposits and rent, cost hundreds of pounds and are nominally levied for mundane administrative tasks such as printing out a tenancy agreement. 

Agents also usually take a percentage of the monthly rent on a property, meaning they effectively charge twice – contributing to profit margins in the industry as high as 30 per cent.

According to the charity Citizens Advice the fees cost an average of £337 per person, while letting agents themselves say the figure is closer to £200. Many tenants are charged over £500, however – particularly in London.

It is also common for the fees to be levied on sitting tenants who simply want to remain in their home for another year.