Here is a question to the blog clinic from Jane (not her real name) who is a tenant:
We signed a fixed term contract on 26 March and paid 6 weeks deposit and a month in advance to [name of agent provided].
Prior to signing we had, on several occasions over a cause of two weeks, asked whether our rent payment date could be the 28th of the month either by us paying 2 days up front for 26&27 March, and the contract reflecting that situation, or with the payment continuing to cover the period 26th to 25th of the month with the result that at the end of the tenancy we would move out on 25th having paid a full month’s rent on the previous 28th.
Our landlady agreed to us paying on 28th and, on signing the contract, it was agreed that we did not need to pay two days and would proceed on the basis that the rent would still cover 26th to 25th of the month.
Head office called to query why our standing order was set up for 28th and said we needed to pay the two days. I referred them back to the local office to clarify the situation and thought nothing more of it.
Our next rent payment, according to the contract is 26th April, which we would pay on 28th as per the agreement we made on signing. Yesterday, 18 April, head office took, without any warning, £165 from my debit account – £92 for two days outstanding rent (which is not due until 26 April) and the rest as fee for being in arrears (which I am not!). Several telephone calls later they were insisting that I was in arrears despite having paid a month’s rent covering up to 25th April!
The contract says that they will take arrears + penalty if rent is unpaid seven days AFTER the due date, which even with us paying rent on 28th of the month, we would not reach that point.
I have no problem paying the £92 if that is how they would now like to work it, goodness knows that I kept offering, but they never made clear to me that the situation had changed.
They are refusing to return the money.
I was not in arrears, how can they just take money from me in this way? Can I take action for breach of contract?
The agents are clearly in the wrong. If you had agreed the arrangment with the landlord that should be sufficient – the agent are supposed to do what the landlord asks not the other way around!
They are also in the wrong for deducting a penalty at a time when you were not in arrears.
I have not named the agents in this post, but looking at their website I see that they are members of the Property Ombudsman and of ARLA.
I suggest you write to them saying that you are very concerned that they have deducted a penalty payment from your bank account at a time when you were not in arrears, and unless you recieve a refund and an apology within 14 days you will be making an official complaint to the Property Ombudsman and will also be reporting the matter to ALRA.
I doubt that they will want this, so hopefully they will refund the money. It might be a good idea to address your letter to someone in authority at the company, rather than the person who is managing your case (who may try to bury it!).