How to avoid the pitfalls
Too good to be true
Be careful of anyone who promises that they can make you a star overnight. Rogue agencies will tell you what you want to hear (for example: 'you're just what we're looking for!') to make you sign up and pay unnecessary or excessive fees.
Question any claims that you'll be found work straight away or that they have supplied people to well known companies. Ask the agency questions and be suspicious of anyone who can't or won't give you clear answers.
Reputable agencies will tell you that the industry is very tough to get into and only a very small number of people have what it takes to succeed. Lots of good looking and talented people struggle to get enough work.
If what they're offering seems to good to be true, it probably is.
Don't be pressured by hard selling techniques
There are instances of hard selling techniques being used by unscrupulous agencies at casting sessions that they have arranged. Before you attend a casting session find out as much as you can about the agency.
If you experience hard selling techniques or you feel pressured into paying fees or signing a contract, then leave. If a reputable agency is interested in you they will give you a chance to think about their offer.
Beware of companies who scout you on the street
Some rogue agencies target young aspiring models on the street (for example, in shopping centres) and tell them they have 'the look'. They take your details and a photograph and tell you they can find you work.
Within a couple of days they contact you to tell you that:
- they have a job that you are perfect for
- you must have professional photographs taken to be considered for it
They advise you to visit a studio that they know to get these professional photographs taken. When you arrive you are given the hard sell and pressured into purchasing large portfolios, sometimes for as much as £1,500. The jobs they have told you about often don't exist and they don't intend to find you work.
Always check out an agency that approaches you on the street to see if they are genuine.
Claiming to provide artists for TV programmes isn't always true
Popular programmes usually use agencies and clients that they have used before. Advertisements claiming to work with popular TV programmes are unlikely to be true.
If in doubt, try phoning the TV company to ask if they use the agency or ask the agency for references from recent clients.
Never pay any money on the day
If you are asked for money when you first speak to an agency they are breaking the law and you should walk away. Report their actions to the Employment Agency Inspectorate helpline or fill out the Employment Agency Inspectorate complaint form.
Never sign anything on the day
Reputable agencies let you take paperwork away to read carefully at your leisure. Make sure that you understand all the terms and conditions of a contract before signing it.
Ask someone else for help if you do not understand the terms and conditions yourself or contact the EAI for support.
Agencies are only allowed to charge fees in limited circumstances
It's common for an agent to take commission from your earnings. If you are asked for money before or after you have signed a contract, ask what you are getting for your money.
Agencies finding you work as a photographic and/or fashion model are banned from charging you any upfront fee, including a fee for your details to appear in a publication or on a website.
If you are looking for work as an actor, background artist, dancer, extra musician, singer or other performer, agencies can charge you fees in connection with a publication or website containing your details.
If you are asked for money to include your details, ask to see a current version and find out where your details will be published. Ask them how getting your details into this publication would help you get work.
The agency can't take any money from you for 30 days from entering into an agreement and you have the right during this time to withdraw from the contract.
Beware of agencies who ask you for repeated fees
If you have paid for a set of photos or other services and then another agency calls saying they need more pictures and fees then be cautious. There is no guarantee of finding work even with reputable agencies but beware of people who ask you for repeated fees.
Cooling off period after agreeing to publication fees
If you agree to have your details appear in a publication or website remember that you have a 30 day cooling off period in which the agency can't take the fee. If an agency attempts to take the fee you should report their actions to the EAI who will investigate all complaints regarding breaches of the legislation.
Check out the agency
Look at the agency's website and ask how many of their clients are in regular work. No entertainment or modelling agency can guarantee work for their clients as it's a tough industry but a reputable agency will have no problem answering your questions. Ask the agency to provide contacts who can give you references.
Where to get help
If you have a problem with an employment agency, contact the Employment Agency Inspectorate.
The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues.
If you are a member of a trade union you can get help, advice and support from them.