Digs responds to students with letter

See Bristol Cut The Rent respond to Digs below the statement


Digs have responded to students in Bristol after anger against their services reached breaking point. A student protest occurred outside their offices a few days ago and there have been calls for students to completely boycott their services. 

Dear Bristol students

Digs takes customer service very seriously and we aim to look after both our landlords and our tenants to the very best of our ability.

We are members of the national ARLA (Association of Residential Letting Agents). All members of ARLA have to comply with the professional standards outlined within the National Federation of Property Professionals. These standards are available here. ARLA are very careful with their vetting procedures and only those agents complying with their professional standards are permitted to join.

We are also members of Bristol Association of Letting and Managing Agents (BALMA). BALMA also has a code of conduct which all members sign up to and it is available here.

If a tenant remains unhappy for whatever reason, they always have recourse to the Property Ombudsman which all lettings Agents are members of.

In terms of the Ethical Lettings Charter, Digs are confident that we abide by everything in the bronze charter, and that we have been doing so for many years.

However, we do have some issues with the Ethical Lettings Charter in its current form. Firstly, we would want any charter that we sign up to have had strong input from a regulated property organization. Our stance here has been supported and endorsed by Bristol City Councillor (for Homes) Paul Smith. Secondly, we would want to see a charter that supports the rights of both landlords and tenants. Currently the Ethical Lettings Charter only supports the rights of tenants. Finally there are also some items in the Charter where we do require clarification of the detail.

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In terms of comments that have been made about Digs Customer Service:

RENTAL PRICES: Digs property portfolio is of a very high standard and this is often reflected in the rental levels. Of course, Digs are only an agent not a landlord and as such do not set rental prices. There does seem to be some misconception that Digs own the properties that we let to students. We can only advise our landlords on rental price. We advise on rental levels taking various factors into account. These factors include supply and demand of people and properties, rental prices for halls of residences and house prices. Epigram states a national average of rents of £146 per week. This is far higher than the average rent for properties marketed by Digs which is £110 per week. After advice from Digs, final decisions are, of course, taken by the landlord.

MAINTENANCE: If there are any maintenance issues, we have robust processes to follow, with dedicated staff and with myself always available if a customer feels the problem is not fully resolved. Please do remember that for some landlords we do not manage their properties, so ongoing maintenance issues are their responsibility.

DEPOSITS: We aim to return all deposits. We only deduct from the deposit if tenants have not left the property in the way that they found it. If tenants are ever have a problem with the value of their deposit returned to them after discussing it with Digs, there is a FREE deposit resolution service available to all tenants.

CUSTOMER SERVICE: I have not seen the detail of the customer survey carried out by the Students Union in 2015 and would be interested to see it. When we have carried out our own surveys – the last was 3 years ago – responses have been mostly positive. Certainly, we would agree that it is time to carry out a new survey and we will be happy to share the results of this.

I am happy to meet members of the Bristol Acorn Students group to discuss further.

Steve Harris

Managing Director, Digs

 

The protest outside Digs a few days ago

The protest outside Digs a few days ago

In response to the statement above a spokesperson from Bristol, Cut the Rent said:

“We acknowledge that Steve Harris’ offer to meet with us to discuss the issues further is a step in the right direction and hope that we can do so as soon as possible.

However, we find the rest of Steve’s response wholly dissatisfying. It reflects a complete failure to adequately address the issues that have been raised and we take real issue at his repeated assertion that Digs are a professional letting agency, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

We also feel Steve’s response is an attempt to deflect blame elsewhere; for instance, on to the landlords he works with – we would question why a professional and ethical letting agency works with landlords who do not look after their tenants in a proper manner.

Further, we take real issue with Steve’s claim that their stance is supported by Paul Smith, as Paul Smith has been highly supportive of ACORN’S Ethical Letting Charter and has encouraged all letting agencies in Bristol to sign up.

Paul Smith told Bristol, Cut the Rent “While the Council cannot require landlords and agents to sign up to ACORN’s standard we encourage them to do so. We are currently finalising a Bristol Ethical Standard which is based upon ACORN’s bronze standard. I am saddened that digs have misrepresented the points I made at the BALMA meeting and I urge them to adopt the standard and ensure that the students they serve receive excellent service at a fair price.”

Digs’ misrepresentation of Paul Smith’s stance seems wholly consistent with their general unethical business approach.

We would also like to make clear that Digs are merely one of the worst offenders in a highly unethical and unprofessional industry. We will continue to campaign to raise standards across the board, as power needs to be transferred from letting agencies and landlords to tenants, who are at the moment being exploited by an industry that simply seems to not care.”