December 2016 Newsletter

Published on Wednesday, 21 December 2016.

This festive edition includes an important announcement about TPO's new Agent Portal that will transform the way we review the complaints and communicate with member agents. May we take this opportunity to wish you and your families a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year from everyone at The Property Ombudsman scheme.

TPO launches new member agent portal

Gerry Fitzjohn talks about the scheme's new online tool and how it will benefit benefit member agents.

(Published December 2016) I’m delighted to announce that the Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme is launching a new Member Agent Portal that will transform the way the scheme reviews complaints and renews membership information.

The portal is a new online tool which every member agent will need to register for – even if your office has never received a consumer complaint - as the portal will enable members to renew their membership online, update their contact information and access the latest case studies, industry news and scheme updates.

We have over 22,000 named contacts recorded on our existing files so the roll-out will be staggered over the coming months to ensure every agent is registered with the site.

We will be contacting members by email over the coming weeks to explain more about the portal so you can register.
In the meanwhile, please find a brief summary of the portal benefits below:

  • Update contact information and complete membership renewals online: Agents can use the portal to update their contact details and process their membership renewal in a few simple clicks.
  • Access news and information: The portal also has a tailored selection of the latest industry news to keep you fully abreast of legislative and regulatory changes, member news and initiatives to raise standards across the industry.
  • See ‘live’ complaint updates: Agents can now access live information about any consumer complaint(s) concerning their branch and check the progress of their case. The portal also enables agents to upload files to support the investigation which will improve the speed and effectiveness of case reviews.

We’ve developed agent guidance and a ‘how to’ video to help members access the portal and familiarise themselves with the site, which agents will be able to access when they register for the portal.

Thank you for taking the time for reading this important update and we look forward to sharing further updates on the Member Agent Portal over the coming months.

Gerry Fitzjohn
TPO Board Chairman

Are you at risk of a £5,000 fine?!

Agents beware! Would your office and website pass a mystery shop under the latest rules?

(Published December 2016) Trading Standards Officers across the country are conducting spot checks on high streets to make sure agents are complying with the law and displaying their redress membership.

The Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Competent Authorities and Information) Regulations 2015, known as the 'ADR Regulations', officially came into force in October 2015, which made it a legal requirement for businesses to:

  • Advise complainants of their redress membership
  • Display the contact details of their redress scheme and the 12 month timescale for referring disputes

Under the current legislation, Trading Standards Officers have the powers to impose fines of up to £5,000 on any letting agent that fails to display its fees, and a raft recent press articles have reported a growing number of fines being enforced.

With the festive season upon us, now is the time to review your branch windows, printed materials and websites, to ensure you are complying with the law and displaying your redress membership.

We’ve published a checklist below to ensure you pass any visit from your local Trading Standards Office with flying colours…

Member checklist:

  • Please ensure your TPO membership is stated in your contract terms, along with a link to the scheme’s website (www.tpos.co.uk) along with the 12 month timescale for referring disputes
  • Trading Standards Officers have been looking at company websites so please ensure TPO’s name and website address is featured on your website so consumers know where they can refer a complaint to.
  • TPO’s Terms of Membership also state that members are required to:
    • Prominently display the TPO logo in the window of every branch office
    • Ensure TPO’s logo features on the agent’s marketing literature, advertisements, letterheads and any terms of business/service contracts
    • Make copies of TPO’s latest Codes of Practice and the TPO Consumer Guide available in every office

Please review and complete this checklist and Tweet @TPOmb so we can share pics of your office and website proudly displaying the TPO logo!

TPO publish CMP survey findings

TPO reveals the results of its nationwide survey, which were presented to the Government’s CMP working party

(Published December 2016) A nationwide survey carried out by The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme has revealed that 90 per cent of tenants fail to ask how their money will be handled by their letting agent.*

TPO agreed to undertake the online survey in collaboration with Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, who is chairing a Government review into Client Money Protection (CMP) with Lord Palmer of Childs Hill.

The results reflect the views of the 680 letting agents that took part in the survey, who shared their views on a range of topics and issues to assist with the CMP review.

The scheme presented its findings to the Government’s working party which met in November to discuss whether CMP should be made mandatory for letting agents.

A summary of TPO’s survey results revealed the following:

  • 73% of letting agents confirmed they belong to a Client Money Protection Scheme
  • 82% of firms said their business complied with the requirements under the Consumer Rights Act 2015
  • 20% of TPO member agents said they were encouraged to take out this policy as a result of the transparency requirements. (64% of agents answered ‘No’, while 16% of firms responded ‘N/A’)
  • 92% of respondents said they currently operate a ring fenced client account for clients’ money
  • Agents that said they hold a separate account for clients’ money were asked if they have one single account or multiple accounts for different branches/clients, with 78% confirming they held a single account, while 22% of respondents said they operated shared accounts
  • UK letting agents confirmed that 11% of their landlords routinely asked them about their policies and procedures for handling clients’ money 
  • UK letting agents confirmed that 10% of their tenants* routinely ask them about their policy and procedures for handling clients’ money
  • 39% of survey respondents said they held their tenancy deposits themselves, through an insured deposit scheme, while 61% of firms said their deposits were held by a custodial scheme.

The Government’s review into CMP was announced in August, following the introduction of the Housing & Planning 2016 Bill, which included a provision that could allow the housing minister to make CMP cover mandatory for letting agents.

The Government is currently analysing the findings and we will keep members informed of developments. To find out more about the CMP review, please visit the Department for Communities and Local Government’s website.

Agents must display their fees properly ahead of ban, Ombudsman urges

Katrine Sporle launches a new 'Hot Topic' feature in Property Industry Eye and December's edition urges agents to display their fees.

Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman (Published December 2016)

The announcement by the Chancellor that the Government intends to remove letting agents’ ability to charge fees to tenants came as a surprise to many in the industry.

The fact is, however, that tenant fees has been one of the headline issues in the sector for an extended time (the other being Client Money Protection), and there are many who hold strong feelings on the subject.

The Government will now need to consult on the issue, and draft and pass new regulations. In the meantime, the obligations on English and Welsh letting agents to display fees (along with redress and CMP scheme membership) remain.

More than anything else, this is an example of the industry needing to prove that it will do all it can to get things right. So please display your fees, making sure that the description of each fee is sufficient to enable the person who is liable to pay it to understand the service or cost that is covered by the fee or the purpose for which it is imposed.

Also ensure that:

  • All fees, charges and/or penalties are quoted inclusive of VAT
  • Fees, charges and/or penalties are displayed prominently at all premises at which the agent deals face-to-face with potential and actual tenants and landlords. (The test of whether they are displayed correctly is likely to be whether the consumer had to ask to see the fees list)
  • Fees, charges and/or penalties are displayed in full on the agent’s website
  • Surcharges and hidden fees are not to be used
  • Clearly state whether the charge is per property or per tenant
  • Explain how fees that cannot be determined in advance will be calculated
  • There is no duplication of charges between tenants and landlords – although it is acceptable to split charges between those parties, provided this is clearly explained in relation to the total cost of the specific service.

Once the Government has decided exactly how it intends to prevent tenant fees from being charged, TPO will amend its Lettings Code of Practice to reflect the practical application of the new regulations.

However, until that point TPO will continue to work with CTSI and local Trading Standards teams to ensure our member agents comply with the law by displaying both their landlord and tenant fees.

For agents who want to download a fee template, ARLA has produced a comprehensive document that can be found here.

To read the Ombudsman's latest 'Hot Topic' article - please visit Property Industry Eye's website.

Top-performing agents fly the flag for The Property Ombudsman scheme

The Property Ombudsman (TPO) praises member agents for scooping 71 awards at the Estate Agent of the Year Awards

(Published December 2016) Member agents from The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme swept the board at this month's awards, which took place on Friday 2nd December at the Hilton Metropole in London.

The awards attracted top-performing agents throughout the UK, with TPO member agents picking up 71 awards across 51 categories at the ceremony.

Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman, was Chair of Judges, which recognised estate agents, new homes, auctions, buying agents, prestige agents, while also celebrating top-performing firms for their customer service, website presence, social media activity, corporate social responsibility and training & development.

Speaking after the event, Katrine said: “The awards were an excellent celebration of best practice with 71 TPO member agents flying the flag for the scheme and collecting a prize for their hard work, innovation and dedication.

“It was a huge privilege to chair the judging panel for these coveted awards. I stand in awe of the judges who undertook a rigorous assessment of the entrants; this was no mean feat given the fantastic standard of the submissions.”

The awards included several categories to recognise individual success, with Peter Rollings awarded Outstanding Contribution to Estate Agency for his outstanding work over the past 30 years.

Katrine added: “These awards are a welcome antidote to my role as Ombudsman and it was a joy to see so many TPO agents win – these firms clearly demonstrated their commitment to customer excellence in all that they do.”

To see the 2016 Judges’ Report in full, please visit: http://estateagencyoftheyear.com/

 

 

 

 

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