Buyers, sellers, tenants and landlords in Chelmsford, Essex, are being warned that a local estate and letting agent, Old Moulsham Estates Limited (trading as Hawksley Pearce), has been expelled from The Property Ombudsman and is now in liquidation but appears to have a new business trading from the same address.
The Property Ombudsman received a complaint from tenants who said that Hawksley Pearce did not ensure that repairs and maintenance were carried out during their tenancy. The boiler was not functioning at the start of the tenancy. The agent arranged for a contractor to attend without the tenants’ permission, and following this did not provide them with a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate. Hawksley Pearce also advised the tenants that they would deal with an energy bill, not in their name, for the period before the tenancy commenced, but the tenants complained that the agent failed to do so, and did not provide them with the landlords’ address upon request.
The agent did not respond to TPO's requests for their company file, and so the Ombudsman was reliant on the evidence provided by the tenants in order to determine whether Hawksley Pearce acted in accordance with their obligations.
The Ombudsman was not satisfied that Hawksley Pearce communicated with the landlord and the tenants regarding the repair issues reported or that the agent made appropriate responses regarding this, including informing the tenants that deductions would be made to their deposit if the agent had to instruct a contractor to resolve the issues raised.
The Ombudsman could not establish whether there was an issue with the boiler at the start of the tenancy, but was critical that Hawksley Pearce did not ensure that the location of the meter and a reading was provided to the tenants at the start of the tenancy. Despite informing the tenants that a contractor would attend the property the day after it was reported, Hawksley Pearce took no action when the tenants advised that they wished to be present and were not available for the appointment. The Ombudsman was not satisfied that Hawksley Pearce acted appropriately in accordance with Paragraph 8g of TPO’s Codes of Practice. Moreover, the agent did not provide the tenants with a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate upon request and appeared not have communicated with the relevant party upon receipt of the energy bill provided by the tenants.
The Ombudsman was also not satisfied that the agent provided the landlords’ details to the tenants in accordance with their obligations under Paragraph 13d of the Code, which resulted in them having to obtain the details via the Land Registry.
This complaint was supported by the Ombudsman and £500 was awarded for the avoidable aggravation caused by Hawksley Pearce.
The agent failed to pay the award and The Ombudsman referred them to the scheme’s independent Compliance Committee, which ruled that they should be expelled from The Property Ombudsman scheme.
Hawksley Pearce appears to have now dissolved there appears to be a linked company trading from the same address. As part of TPO’s process, notification of all expulsions are shared with any relevant bodies, including both Local and National Trading Standards.
Gerry Fitzjohn, Non-Executive Director and Chairman of TPO’s Finance Committee: “As a member of TPO, agents are obliged to comply with awards made by the Ombudsman, which Sam Allan Estates failed to do. It appears that this agent is no longer trading, which is frustrating for the tenants who are owed outstanding monies. The tenants have been advised of the agent’s position and papers have been provided to assist in alternative action should they wish to pursue it further.
We would like to remind consumers to ensure they always use an agent which is a member of a redress scheme (The Property Ombudsman or The Property Redress Scheme) and holds Client Money Protection*.”
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.
An agreement between the two Government-approved redress schemes (The Property Ombudsman and The Property Redress Scheme, means Hawksley Pearce will not be able to register for any form of redress until the award is paid. Redress registration is required for the agents to trade legally.
*Full list of Client Money Protection schemes, is:
Money Shield, Client Money Protect, safeagent Client Money Protection, Propertymark, RICS, UKALA Client Money Protection
For press information, please contact:
The Inhouse Way
Tel: 01276 804411
Helen Evison: 07920 516 577
Holly Addinall: 07979 537 334
NOTES TO EDITOR:
What is The Property Ombudsman?
The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme offers an independent and impartial dispute resolution service to consumers who have been unable to resolve their disputes with a registered agent. 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.
TPO is funded through membership subscriptions and case fees and is free to all consumers.
At 31 December 2018 over 15,897 sales offices and 14,746 letting offices were registered with TPO.
Whilst TPO charges registered agents an annual subscription, the Ombudsman is accountable to the 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 agent.
Awards made by the Ombudsman in 2018 were paid by agents to consumers in 97% of cases. In the few cases where awards remain unpaid, agents are referred to the TPO Compliance Committee, which has the power to expel agents from the scheme. Expelled agents are reported to the appropriate authorities who have the power to ban agents from carrying out agency business.
If TPO becomes aware that an agent under investigation has ceased trading, complainants are promptly informed and, where an award is made, are provided with the necessary documentation to make a claim against that company. TPO’s agreement with the Property Redress Scheme, means that not only will expelled agents not be able to register for any form of redress, but any new company set up by the same directors will not be accepted for redress membership, until the Ombudsman’s award is paid.
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 and interim 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