Money down the drain

Our lawyer Fiona McNulty looks at fees charged by lettings agents for reference checks
Estate agent fees cartoon
© Malcolm Willett (
Question: I recently paid an estate agent a holding deposit of £200 for a flat I wanted to rent. He also asked for £190 to do reference checks on my husband and me.

After a few days I was told that the house would not be available on the date I needed it. Nothing was signed and the agent returned the £200 deposit but said the reference-check money was non-refundable.

The reference-check report, a one-page document, was not acceptable to any other estate agent. I cannot afford to throw away this money. Is there anything I can do?

Answer: As nothing was signed, your agreement with the letting agent was verbal. The precise terms of a verbal agreement are always difficult to ascertain unless they are confirmed by a memo in writing. You should check the content of any letters the letting agent sent you.

Did the letting agent explain that the reference fee was non-refundable when you paid it? The agent probably paid a credit-reference agency to do the check on you and so will have spent all or part of the money you gave him paying the agency’s fee.

The letting agent should have made it perfectly clear to you that the fee was non-refundable. I am surprised the other agents you approached have said that the reference check is unacceptable - perhaps you should contact the credit-reference agency to find out why.

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If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, email We regret that questions cannot be answered individually.

Fiona is a partner in the property team at Thring Townsend Lee & Pembertons Solicitors

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