Q: Agency fees
An agency has offered me the chance to be on its books but has asked me to supply £85 and three photos in order to put my details on CD-ROM and the company's webpage. Last time I did this it proved to be a hoax - how do I check this firm is legitimate and if so, should I pay the money?
A: Under the existing law there is a general statutory prohibition against an employment agency charging any fee for finding employment, or seeking to find employment (so-called "upfront fees"), the intention apparently being that the agency should gets its remuneration from the employer. However, there is an important exception to this rule in relation to certain specified occupations in the entertainment industry, which embrace most if not all of such occupations one can think of. So, under the law as it stands at present, it is not illegal for the agency to stipulate the requirement concerned and you should point this out to them.
The employment regulations are under general review at the present time and draft new regulations have been published which are likely to take effect some time later this year. If they take the form of the last published draft, the aforementioned exception for occupations in the entertainment industry will not apply to inclusion of information about the work seeker in a publication (including a publication in electronic form), unless that is the only work-finding service to be provided by the agency for the individual concerned and the agency has, before contracting for the work seeker to pay a fee, made available to him or her a copy of the current edition of the publication concerned. This includes a publication in "electronic form" in which case the requirement is for the work seeker to be given access to a current edition of the publication in that electronic form. The agency must also comply with certain other specified requirements about notification to the work seeker of the agency's terms of business and the service it will provide.
Accordingly, if the agency is to do anything else for you, apart from putting your details on CD-ROM and the company's webpage, it will fall at the first hurdle and will not be able to make the charge to which you have referred under the new regulations, if and when they come into force in their current form.
As to checking whether the firm is 'legitimate', you may care to contact one or more of the various trade associations representing entertainment agents, such as the Agents Association (Great Britain), the National Entertainment Agents Council or the Personal Managers Association, in order to ascertain whether the particular agency with whom you are dealing is a member of one of those bodies. If it is a limited company, you can also do a search against its file at the Companies Registry in order to ascertain its history and origins and current board of directors. You can pay them a visit to their offices and talk to the people in charge and see what impression you get. You can look in various directories such as Contacts, Spotlight and The British Theatre Directory to see if the agency is listed in the relevant sections of those publications. You can also ask the agency to provide you with references from its bankers, professional advisers and one or two clients. All these methods are useful ways of checking the credentials of the agency if you are in any doubt about them.
If you are eventually satisfied about their status and consider them reputable, you should still only pay them the money after receiving from them written confirmation of what they are going to do for you in return and after visiting their website and satisfying yourself about its contents.
First published January 2003