Hamptons International has been slapped down by the Advertising Standards Authority for not making it clear that some lettings fees were compulsory.
Claims on a Hamptons website listing stated: "£1,200 per calendar month + £216 incl VAT admin fee per property + other fees may apply" with the references to fees hyperlinked to further details about related fees.
A complaint to the ASA came from someone suggesting that the advertisement gave the impression that the information about ‘non-optional’ fees may not have been clear.
Hamptons International, under its parent name of Hamptons Estates, told the ASA that the administration fee was the only fixed charge, and that the hyperlink in the ad took viewers to a PDF document entitled Charges and Information for Tenants.
This in turn provided further details about other mandatory charges that might apply, including charges for obtaining references for the applicant. The PDF also stated "other charges may be incurred as part of the application process", which referred to check-in fees.
They explained the check-in fee would vary from property to property, depending on the size and the charge levied by the independent inventory clerk, of which Hamptons were paid a percentage. There was also a different fee structure for Hamptons’ Bristol branch.
The ASA considered consumers would interpret the claim "+£216 incl VAT admin fee per property + other fees may apply" to mean that the administration fee was the only non-optional charge and there might be other fees depending on the situation.
However, it turns out that there were indeed other non-optional fees that consumers would have to pay if they rented the property - a referencing charge and a check-in charge, which would be combined with the administrative charge into an all-inclusive fee applied by the Bristol branch.
For other branches, the referencing charge was one of two fixed prices depending on whether the consumer was a tenant or a business, and the check-in charge varied depending on the size of the property.
The ASA says that “while we acknowledged details of the costs were included in a document which was hyperlinked to the claim, we considered non-optional fees were material information that was likely to have an impact on a consumer's transactional decision. We considered, therefore, that the information about the non-optional fees was not sufficiently prominent” and that the ad “misleadingly implied other fees might not apply”.
The ASA says that as a result the ad is misleading and must not be used in the offending format again.