Seekers Estate Agents, a sales and lettings agent based in Erdington, Birmingham, has had its expulsion
from membership of The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme extended from two to three years, after a further consumer complaint was brought against the agent.
In November 2017, Seekers Estate Agents was expelled from TPO for failing to pay awards totalling £4,137 following two separate complaints* by landlords relating to a series of failings in their letting and management service. 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, giving wrong and mis-leading information, and not protecting the tenant’s deposit or carrying 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.
A further case has been brought to The Property Ombudsman’s attention where a complainant (a tenant) raised similar concerns about the agent. The complainant, who let a property through Seekers, paid £1,375 which the agent said was to cover the deposit and £550 rent in advance. However, the deposit was not recorded in the tenancy agreement nor was it protected in a deposit scheme. When another agent took over management of the property, no credit was made nor was the deposit transferred. When the complainant left the property, the complainant could not reclaim the deposit because the new agent had no record of it. The Ombudsman criticised Seekers for its further failings and awarded the complainant £1,000 to cover the deposit (£825) and aggravation distress and inconvenience (£175).
The agent did not respond to requests from The Property Ombudsman or co-operate with the complaint reviews and did not pay the award. The case was referred to TPO’s Disciplinary & Standards Committee (DSC), which ruled the firm should be expelled from TPO for a further period of one year.
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** but appears to still be trading with properties advertised both ‘For Sale’ and ‘To Let’ on its website. TPO has already informed Trading Standards of this case.
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 has chosen not to respond to any of the case reviews we have put to them but I was satisfied that the evidence provided by the complainants sufficiently demonstrated their failings.”
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 a further one year period.
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. We have a duty to advise the public about this agent and they have also been reported to Trading Standards.”
*To read details of the previous cases, please click here
**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.