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Make a Complaint - Lettings

Complainants' Checklist

Before you refer your complaint to TPO please ensure that;
  • The firm is registered with TPO. Please check the find a member section
  • You have written to the firm setting out your complaint
  • The firm should investigate your complaint within eight weeks. If eight weeks have passed and your complaint has not been resolved to your satisfaction you may refer your dispute to us
  • If the firm has written to you explaining that they have completed their investigations or you have exhausted their internal complaints procedure, you may now refer your complaint to us

Once you have completed this checklist, please complete and sign the Complaints Form and send this together with copies of any supporting documentation.

We strongly recommend that you read the guidance pack before you submit your complaint to us; this will assist you presenting your case to the Ombudsman.

If you are submitting a complaints form on behalf of someone else, we will require their written authority. A letter of authority template can be downloaded from here.

Please contact us if you require further guidance.

What will the Ombudsman do?

The Property Ombudsman will look into your complaint to see if he can resolve your dispute in full and final settlement. Sometimes, it may be possible to do so by mediation by helping you and the agent towards a settlement that you can both agree on. Mostly, he will examine both sides of the dispute and arrive at a written decision. Where he supports your case, he may also consider an appropriate award of financial compensation.

Any award that the Ombudsman makes in your favour is to compensate you for any disadvantage you may have suffered that he feels that you deserve. It is not to punish the agent. The Ombudsman has no remit to impose punitive fines on erring letting agents. He is not a Regulator.

The Ombudsman will seek to resolve your dispute with the agent which may involve making an award of financial compensation where appropriate and if you accept his award, you do so in full and final settlement of your dispute.

What cases can the Ombudsman deal with?

The Ombudsman can consider complaints from both landlords and tenants, if you believe that the agent has:

  • Infringed your legal rights; or
  • Failed to follow the rules and obligations for letting agents under the TPO Letting Code of Practice or any internal rules, procedures or statements of practice of the member; or
  • Treated you unfairly; or
  • Been guilty of maladministration (including inefficiency and undue delay)

in a way that results in you losing money or suffering avoidable aggravation, distress and/or inconvenience.

However, even though we have accepted your complaint, it may be that, on further examination, it concerns something that we cannot deal with.

What complaints cannot be dealt with by the Ombudsman?

Broadly speaking, the Ombudsman cannot deal with your complaint if:

  • Your complaint is against a letting agent who is not a member of the TPO Scheme
  • Your complaint is being, or has been, dealt with by a court or similar body
  • Your complaint refers to something that happened before the letting agent was a member of the TPO Scheme or more than 12 months before you complained in writing to the letting agent
  • You refer your complaint to the Ombudsman more than six months after the date of the letting agent's final viewpoint letter
What happens when you receive my Complaints Form?

We send a copy (and any attachments) to the letting agent and ask for his file and his version of events. Only in a few instances will it be necessary for someone from this office to speak to you directly. A case officer will then undertake a formal review of your complaint, largely based on the documents from both sides, but he may also make other enquiries. The case officer will then present his recommendations in a written case review to the Ombudsman for his proposed decision. That proposed decision may be:

  • to support your complaint
  • not to support your complaint
  • to propose a settlement
What if the Agent has made an offer?

If the agent has already made you any form of financial offer to settle your dispute, that offer lapses on referral of your complaint to this office. The Ombudsman will come to his own conclusion as to whether or not that offer represents appropriate compensation for the complaint. If the Ombudsman does not support your complaint, the agent is not required to reinstate the offer previously made.

What level of proof do I need to provide?

Please note that, even though we have accepted your complaint, this does not mean that the Ombudsman will necessarily support you. That depends on the strength of your side of the case and what evidence there is to support it.

The Ombudsman needs to be convinced that any fault, in whole or in part, is caused by the letting agent's actions or inactions. It may be that the fault lies elsewhere, eg with solicitors, with the other party (landlord or tenant), or even with you. That will be established in the case review.

It will not be sufficient for you to merely make an unsupported allegation against an agent. The Ombudsman will need to be convinced that there is some reasonable substance behind any allegation. Any proof that you can provide will substantially help your case.

If the evidence provided by the agent disproves your allegation, the Ombudsman is unlikely to support your version of events. However, if the agent is unable to provide documentary evidence and the Ombudsman believes that he should be able to, he is likely to support your version of events.

How will the Ombudsman judge my complaints?

In carrying out his review the Ombudsman is guided specifically by the Lettings Code of Practice in judging the complaint.

At the same time, the Ombudsman will be influenced by the information that he sees and will be guided by best practice. He will always try to use common sense and arrive at a decision based on what seems to him to be fair and reasonable in all the circumstances.

However, unlike a court, the Ombudsman has no power to cross-examine witnesses under oath. If one party says 'white' and the other says 'black' and there are no other reasonable grounds upon which the Ombudsman can safely come to a decision on the matter, he may conclude that he is unable to come to a formal decision.

What happens if the Ombudsman supports my complaint?

If the proposed decision supports all or part of your complaint and an award of compensation is made in your favour, the case review with that proposed decision is first sent to the agent. The agent has 14 days to accept the decision or make a representation. If the agent submits a representation, this is considered and the case review may be amended as necessary.

The case review is then sent to you with the Ombudsman's proposed decision, together with a copy of the agent's submission and any relevant documents which you may not have previously seen. You will have 28 days in which to accept the decision, or make your own representation.

What if the Ombudsman does NOT support my complaint?

The case review containing the proposed decision and a copy of the agent's submission and any relevant documents you may not have previously seen will be sent to you first.

What if I do NOT agree with the Ombudsman's decision?

You can submit a representation within 28 days. However, the Ombudsman will only re-consider his proposed decision if:

  • You can show that there was a significant error in fact that would have had a material effect on the decision
  • Or where you can produce significant new evidence that will have a material effect on the decision

If you are unable to produce either of these, we will not be able to help you further.

Having considered any representations, the Ombudsman will make a Final Decision.

Please note that the TPO Scheme complaints process is designed so that complaints received about an agent start and finish with the Ombudsman. Having made a Final Decision, there is no avenue for appeal or further review of your complaint for either party within the Scheme.

Any request for an oral hearing will be considered by the Ombudsman (or his deputy), by reference to the nature of the issues to be determined and in particular to the extent to which the complaint raises issues of credibility or contested facts that cannot be fairly determined by reference to documentary evidence and written submissions. In deciding whether there should be a hearing and, if so, whether it should be in public or private, the Ombudsman will have regard to the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Ombudsman will give reasons in writing, if he declines to grant a hearing.

If the Ombudsman supports me, what can he do?

First, he can criticise the agent for any failings or breaches of the Lettings Code of Practice. This is normally confined to ensuring that he examines his procedures and supervision, so that such failings are reduced or eliminated. More rarely, such criticism can result in the Ombudsman reporting a serious breach of the Code to the TPO Council for consideration of their further action against the agent (which could lead to dismissal from the TPO Scheme).

Secondly, and more importantly from your point of view, he can make you an award under the TPO Scheme. Please note that the purpose of this award is to compensate you. Even though it will be paid by the agent you are complaining about, the award is not made to punish the agent, that is not the Ombudsman's role.

Alternatively, the Ombudsman may ask the agent to apologise to you.

The Ombudsman can make awards up to £25,000. He will do so if he is convinced that you have suffered:

  • Actual, proven financial loss as a direct result of actions or inactions by the agent
  • And/or any avoidable aggravation, distress and inconvenience, over and above what is a stressful and inconvenient process at the best of times
What happens if I accept the Ombudsman's award?

If you accept the award, you do so in full and final settlement of all the complaints against the agent upon which he has made a formal judgement.

Can I accept the award and still go to court?

By acceptance of the award, you agree to the full and final settlement of your dispute with the agent and you will be asked to sign your agreement to that effect. TPO Scheme (recognised by the courts as an Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanism) is designed to settle disputes. That is why (to the best of our knowledge) the courts rarely accept, and have never upheld, the case of a complainant who has previously accepted an award under the TPO Scheme. Therefore, if you wish to pursue your case through the courts, you must reject the Ombudsman's findings in their entirety.

What if I don't accept the Ombudsman's Decision?

You are free to pursue your complaint elsewhere, without prejudice from anything decided by the Ombudsman. However, please note that the agent will also be free to pursue any claim he may have against you for any outstanding fees.

So, if you reject the Ombudsman's Decision, you also give up your right to any award that he may have made to you.

Do you publicise case reviews?

No. Our case reviews and the Ombudsman's Decisions remain strictly confidential between you, the agent and the TPO office. We will not disclose any of the details to anyone else. Whether you (or the agent) make them public is a matter for you. However, we do publish abridged and anonymised case summaries on our website and in the Ombudsman's quarterly and annual reports.

What about the agent's fee?

If you are a landlord, your contract with the letting agent usually requires you to pay commission according to the level of service offered. If you refuse to pay, the letting agent has the legal right to take you to court. Some agents may be prepared to wait until the Ombudsman has reviewed your complaint, but no agent is obliged to do so. If you do not pay the fees and the agent commences legal action, the Ombudsman may not continue with his consideration of your complaint. Accordingly, there is an expectation that you will pay the fee, or any uncontested part of it, on a 'without prejudice' basis if appropriate, to avoid legal action. If a court date has been set and is imminent, the complaint will be suspended until after the court action. At that stage, the Ombudsman will determine whether the complaint falls within his remit. If the court date is set for several months ahead, then the complaint will proceed and the Ombudsman will issue his decision in the usual way.