Ombudsman extends its ruling against Cornish letting agent after seven more landlords raise disputes against the firm

Published on Monday, 04 September 2017.

The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme has taken further action against an expelled letting agent after it received seven additional complaints from landlords which resulted in awards totalling £20,566.23.

Premier Property Management (PPM), based in Truro, was originally expelled by The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme in November 2016 after a landlord alleged PPM had failed to pass on rental payments and delayed in handing over deposits. PPM was excluded from TPO for a period of two years but the expulsion has now been extended after more cases came to light.

The agent neither responded nor paid the seven awards, so the case was referred to TPO’s Disciplinary & Standards Committee (DSC) which extended the exclusion by a further period of four years.  This means the agent can no longer legally trade*, although it appears that PPM is no longer trading and the website is no longer active.  The agency has been referred to local authorities.

Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman, said: “This agent’s behaviour fell well below the standards expected and their systematic failure to pass on rental payments and deposits received has affected the lives of several landlords. Cases like these are fortunately extremely rare but do highlight the importance of consumers keeping their own written records so I can review emails, bank statements and correspondence as part of my investigation to determine if the agent has acted fairly.”

Ombudsman investigation

In coming to a judgement on each case, the Ombudsman considered the evidence presented by the landlord (which included emails and bank statements) and the standards set out in TPO’s Lettings Code of Practice.

The agent’s emails often offered unacceptable reasons for the delays in payments and made repeated assurances that rent had been transferred yet some payments were then rescinded.

A similar pattern occurred with deposits where the firm would promise to act or would claim a deposit had been paid or transferred.

One Landlord claimed they visited the agent’s office and were shown ‘evidence’ of a payment having left their bank account but this never materialised in the Complainants’ own account.

The Ombudsman found the agent had made false promises on many occasions and had failed to correspond with the Complainants during certain periods.

The agent also failed to co-operate with the Ombudsman’s investigation into the complaints.

The Ombudsman instructed the agent to pay awards for each case and compensation for the aggravation, distress and inconvenience caused, which totalled £20,566.23.

DSC findings and ruling

All members of TPO are obliged to pay awards made by the Ombudsman and are also obliged to co-operate with investigations. PPM also voluntarily agreed to abide by TPO’s Lettings Code of Practice. The DSC found there were serious and flagrant breaches of PPM’s membership obligations under the Membership Deed.

In view of that, the DSC concluded that PPM should be further excluded from membership of TPO and from registration for redress for four years.

Gerry Fitzjohn, Chairman of TPO’s Board, said: “While it is believed that the firm is no longer trading, we have taken action to ensure the firm’s expulsion is extended so they are unable to trade if they attempt to register with any redress scheme.  We have also alerted the relevant authorities concerning their conduct. We urge consumers to always check their sales or letting agent is registered with TPO, and following the scheme’s Codes of Practice which offer additional safeguards to protect consumers from unfair practices.”  

*N.B. Every sales and lettings agent in England is required to register with a Government-approved redress scheme so consumers can have a complaint reviewed independently if dispute arises and the consumer is unable to resolve it with the agent directly. 

An agreement between the three Government-approved redress schemes means PPM will not be able to register for any form of redress until all awards are paid. Redress registration is required for the agents to trade legally.