- Consumer enquiries to The Property Ombudsman in 2022 remained high at just under 45,000
- Issues dealt with at enquiry stage, reducing the need for formal complaints to be raised against TPO members, comprised:
- Just under 14,000 issues from tenants and landlords about their letting agent
- Over 5,500 buyer and seller issues relating to their estate agent
- Over 3,000 leaseholder issues about their managing agent
- Over 1,500 tenant issues about their landlord where no agent was involved were dealt with at the enquiry stage, with tenants being provided with advice and guidance to help them resolve their issues.
- Just under 17,000 further consumers provided with advice and guidance through TPO’s self-service portal.
- 6,012 disputes resolved through early resolution or formal ombudsman decision
- TPO member compliance with Ombudsman decisions remained extremely high at 98.4%
In 2022, demand for help and advice from The Property Ombudsman remained high with 44,492 consumers provided with advice and guidance to help them resolve their issues. A greater emphasis on educating consumers and providing them with advice specific to their individual situation, coupled with changes to the Scheme’s Terms of Reference, saw TPO help more consumers to resolve their issues without the need to complain to their agent or to TPO. Not only did this resolve problems much earlier and cut waiting times but also resulted in the number of disputes accepted for investigation reducing by 30% - providing TPO members and consumers with the assurance that only those disputes that needed TPO’s adjudication and resolution expertise were accepted for investigation.
Of the 6,012* disputes that The Property Ombudsman resolved last year, 2,246 were done so through early resolution while 3,766 required a formal decision (a 23% increase on 2021). This highlights the increasing complexity of cases coming to TPO which require its expertise to resolve.
There was a financial settlement or award granted in 3,206 of cases, with just 33 unpaid awards resulting in the expulsion of 22 agents from the scheme. This translates to just under a 99% compliance rate, with these agents constituting just 0.06% of TPO’s 38,846 membership. This gives consumers confidence in both the scheme and its members.
TPO resolved 2,650 disputes relating to lettings, 1,883 relating to sales, 1,220 for residential leasehold management (RLM) and 259 for other property professionals. The biggest awards were £21,779 (lettings), £15,500 (sales) and £23,634 (RLM), and the average awards were £504, £488 and £416 respectively.
TOP CAUSES OF SALES DISPUTES:
- Instructions, terms of business, fees, charges and termination
- Marketing and advertising
- Communication between offer acceptance and exchange
The top four issues complained about in relation to estate agents were the same as 2021. However, a 4% increase in disputes from sellers saw disputes around agency fees and agreements increase making this the top issue of complaint. However, complaints about how estate agents handle complaints reduced to the extent that it dropped out of the top five causes of complaint.
TOP CAUSES OF LETTINGS DISPUTES:
- Tenancy management
- Complaints Handling
- Instructions, terms of business, fees, charges and termination
The high levels of enquiries and disputes relating to repair and maintenance issues (which comes under tenancy management) underlines the need to raise the standard of private rented housing stock.
Rebecca Marsh, Property Ombudsman:
Commenting on 2022, Rebecca said: “I am pleased that we were able to help more people through our front-end enquiry service to the extent that the number of disputes accepted by the Scheme reduced by 30%.
Not only did this mean that consumers were given the advice they needed to resolve their issues early but, importantly, for TPO members it meant significant savings for them in not having to deal with the complaints that would have otherwise occurred. It is a service unique to Ombudsmen and one that I very proud of”.
Looking to the future, Rebecca added: “Difficult market conditions will increase competition to gain instructions from sellers and landlords. In both instances agents must strive to ensure that market valuations are reasonable and are supported by comparable properties. For tenants and buyers, clarity around offers will be paramount and agents must communicate these in writing to all relevant parties.
Specific to the lettings market, high levels of enquiries from tenants and landlords seeking advice from TPO indicates a real need for consumer education to help them understand the roles and responsibilities of all the parties involved. For agents, these enquiries show that regular communication to tenants about the progress of repairs and maintenance issues is a lesson that, if learned, will provide assurance that matters are in hand and, ultimately reduce the potential for complaints to arise.”
*The sum of ‘cases resolved by early resolution ‘and those ‘resolved by Ombudsman decision’ total more than ‘cases accepted’ as some of those resolved in 2022 have been carried over from 2021.
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NOTES TO THE EDITOR
Any issues regarding this document should be addressed to the process owner.
Notes to the editor:
What is The Property Ombudsman?
The Property Ombudsman (TPO) offers an independent and impartial dispute resolution service to consumers who have been unable to resolve their disputes with a registered property business. The scheme was established in 1990. The Ombudsman can provide redress to place the consumer back in the position they were before the complaint arose, achieving a full and final settlement of the dispute and all claims made by either party. Where appropriate, the Ombudsman can make compensatory awards in individual cases up to a maximum of £25,000 for actual and quantifiable loss and/or for aggravation, distress and/or inconvenience caused by the actions of a registered agent.
Whilst TPO charges registered agents an annual subscription, the Ombudsman is accountable to the independent TPO Board which is chaired by a member of the House of Lords and with the majority of its members being independent from the industry.
The Ombudsman is not a regulator and does not have the authority to take regulatory or legal action against a registered business. However, registered businesses can be referred to the TPO Compliance Committee, which has the power to expel agents from the scheme and/or report them to the appropriate authorities, with the power to ban agents from carrying out estate agency business.
The Ombudsman's Terms of Reference, Codes of Practice, Consumer Guides and other documents about the operation of the scheme are available on our website (www.tpos.co.uk), together with previous annual reports, case summaries, further explanation of governance arrangements and a full list of registered agents.
For more information about TPO, please visit our website at www.tpos.co.uk