Buyers, sellers, tenants and landlords in Grays, Essex, are being warned that a local estate and letting agent Elite Properties Essex Ltd (trading as Elite Properties) has been expelled from The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme. This means the agent can no longer legally trade until the outstanding award is paid.
A tenant made a complaint to The Property Ombudsman after claiming that the agent disposed of her personal items without advising her.
Elite Properties had provided guidance on requirements and obligations before ending the tenancy and advised that personal items may be removed and disposed of at the tenant's cost. It was clear, however, that the agent was aware that CCTV cameras and assorted brackets were to be removed by the tenant.
The tenant arranged for this to be done, however, the contractor did not complete the job and damaged the ceiling in the process. The agent then gained quotes to remove the rest, which the tenant said were too high. With no further action from the tenant, the agent advised the cameras would be removed at her cost which was agreed.
The Ombudsman criticised Elite Properties for not confirming in writing exactly what items were to be removed and, once the cameras were taken, failing to advise the tenant and confirm where and when they could be collected. Compensation was awarded for poor communication and record keeping in this respect.
The deposit was also delayed in being returned to the tenant. The agent advised on several occasions that they required final bills from utility companies to confirm all had been paid, rather than just screenshots of payments.
There was no evidence to confirm a date that this was finalised, and the tenant had to chase for the refund which the Ombudsman again criticised the agent for. Throughout the case, communication was inconsistent by the agent and they failed to abide by the internal complaints handling process required as part of being a member of TPO.
These shortcomings added to the aggravation and distress caused to the tenant and the Ombudsman awarded the tenant £200 compensation.
However, Elite Properties failed to pay the award and The Ombudsman referred the agent to the scheme’s independent Compliance Committee, which ruled the firm should be expelled from The Property Ombudsman scheme.
Elite Properties is not currently registered with a redress scheme, which is a requirement of every sales and letting agent in order to trade legally*. They also do no not appear to be a member of a Client Money Protection scheme, also a legal requirement, do not have any professional memberships or advertise on the any of the main property portals, Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket. Elite Properties Essex Ltd has been referred to 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 Elite Properties has failed to do. Whilst the company’s website www.elite-properties.co.uk no longer appears active, we want to make consumers aware in case they appear to start trading again. It is also a reminder to consumers to ensure they also 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 Elite Properties Essex Ltd 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, NALS 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