Seekers Estate Agents, a sales and lettings agent based in Erdington, Birmingham, has failed to pay awards totalling £4,137 following two separate complaints relating to a series of failings in their letting and management service. As a result, the agent has been expelled from membership and registration for redress with The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme for a minimum of two years.
The agent did not respond to requests from The Property Ombudsman to cooperate with the complaint reviews and did not pay awards made of £2,675 in one case and £1,462 in another. The case was referred to TPO’s Disciplinary & Standards Committee (DSC), which ruled the firm should be expelled from TPO. TPO is now warning consumers to be aware that this firm is not registered with a redress scheme, which is a requirement of every sales and letting agent in order to trade legally*.
In the first case, the complainant raised several concerns about the letting and management of her property, all of which were upheld by the Ombudsman. These included the agent’s failure to provide a written management agreement, giving prospective tenants access to a property before they had signed an agreement and giving them permission to redecorate without the complainant’s permission. The agent also gave wrong and mis-leading information, did not protect the tenant’s deposit and did not carry out referencing checks. There were also several management issues during the tenancy relating to arranging suitable contractors to carry out work required and investigating possible breaches of tenancy. The Ombudsman made an overall award of £2,675 to cover financial loss equal to the tenant’s deposit and for anxiety, distress and inconvenience.
In the second case, the complainants said that the agent has not registered the tenant’s deposit of £862 with an approved deposit protection scheme, had not issued prescribed information or passed on tenancy information including the agreement, referencing checks, gas inspection status, or EPC. The agent was also criticised for the handling of the complaints, failing to respond to several letters including one from the complainants’ solicitor. The Ombudsman awarded the complainant £1,462.
Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman, said: “My role is to impartially review cases such as this and to present my findings on the dispute between the complainant and the agent, based on the evidence presented by both parties. Seekers chose not to respond to the case review but the evidence I did have demonstrated that their communication and advice was very poor and was enough for me to support all of the complaints made.”
All members of TPO are obliged to comply with awards made by the Ombudsman and are also obliged to co-operate with investigations. Seekers Estate Agents voluntarily agreed to abide by the Code. The requirement to pay awards is such a fundamental one for a redress scheme that the DSC takes failure to so very seriously and in view of this case, concluded that this agency should be excluded for two years.
Gerry Fitzjohn, Chairman of TPO’s Board, said: “Redress registration is required for agents to trade legally. As a result of this expulsion and an agreement between the three Government-approved redress schemes, Seekers Estate Agents, which has three branches; two in Birmingham and one in Staffordshire, will not be able to register for any form of redress and therefore will no longer be able to trade until the awards are paid. The website suggests the agency is still actively trading, with properties advertised for sale, but Trading Standards have been informed.”
*N.B. Every sales and lettings agent in England is required to register with a Government-approved redress scheme, which enables consumers to have their complaint reviewed independently in the event of a dispute arising that the consumer is unable to resolve with the agent directly.