Buyers, sellers, tenants and landlords in Romford, Essex, are being warned that a local estate and letting agent, Target Estates, has been expelled from The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme, despite appearing to have now ceased trading.
The Property Ombudsman received a complaint from a potential tenant who said that Target Estates did not provide her with criteria for referencing or for renting the property until after she had paid the holding deposit. The potential tenant said that the rent was advertised as weekly, but was later told she would have to pay monthly.
Target Estates’ response was that the tenant was shown a copy of the holding deposit receipt at the viewing which detailed the criteria for letting.
The agent had not complied with their obligations under best practice of the General Membership Obligations, nor with their obligations under the CMA Guidance. It was also not clear that the complainant had read and agreed to the terms of the Holding Deposit, prior to paying the fee and the fee was detailed as non-refundable, contrary to the CMA Guidance (this case was prior to the tenant fee ban and therefore CMA guidance was valid at this time).
It was also not clear that the tenant had read and agreed to the terms of the Holding Deposit, prior to paying the fee and the fee was detailed as non-refundable, contrary to the CMA Guidance.
Target Estates had not carried out any referencing work in preparation for the proposed tenancy and the landlord had continued marketing the property throughout the period of the application. The full holding deposit was transferred to the landlord, which was unreasonable as neither the landlord nor Target Estates had incurred any losses. The Ombudsman supported the complaint and directed Target Estates to return the holding deposit of £350.
Target Estates failed to pay the award (to return the £350 holding deposit) 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.
Target Estates is not registered with a redress scheme, which is a requirement of every sales and letting agent in order to trade legally. However, they do not appear to be trading still. 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.
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 Target Estates has failed to do. It appears that this agent is no longer trading, which is frustrating for the tenant who is owed outstanding monies.
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 Target Sales & Lettings 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