Wilkins Residential, a sales and lettings agent in Hove, has been expelled from The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme for one year and six months after the Ombudsman supported a complaint relating to non-payment of rent on three properties to landlords whose properties they managed.
The complainants said that the agent had received rent monies from the tenants at three of their properties, but had improperly retained funds which they calculated to total £12,925. The agent did not respond to requests from The Property Ombudsman to provide a statement of accounts or their company file, which in the Ombudsman’s view, was persuasive evidence of such shortcomings. In addition, the Ombudsman found that the agent had emailed the complainants to confirm the accounts would be up to date as soon as possible, which also persuaded the Ombudsman that they had received funds from the tenants which were not passed to the landlords.
However, the Ombudsman found that the complainants’ calculation for rent due had not taken into account the agent’s commission (which is a contractual right). Therefore, the Ombudsman made a total award of £12,739.30, which comprised £12,925 for missing rent less commission at 7% plus VAT (£1,085.70), together with an award for compensation of £900 for the shortcomings in service.
The agent did not pay the outstanding award and the case was referred to TPO’s Disciplinary & Standards Committee (DSC), which ruled the firm should be expelled from TPO. 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*.
Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman, said: “In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I accepted the complainants’ version of events and the amount of outstanding rent due to be paid. This agent has not only failed to respond to the complainants’ communications in relation to the matter, which undoubtedly exacerbated the aggravation caused, they also failed to cooperate with TPOs complaint review. In addition to financial loss, I considered that the circumstances detailed in the complaint merited an award of compensation as a result of this company’s failure to act appropriately.”
All members of TPO are obliged to comply with awards made by the Ombudsman and are also obliged to co-operate with investigations. Wilkins Residential 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 do so very seriously.
Gerry Fitzjohn, Chairman of TPO’s Board, said: “Cases like these are rare but TPO offers a free, fair and impartial redress service to protect consumers from unfair practices. This agent’s expulsion means it is illegal for them to trade and we have notified Trading Standards accordingly. There is no evidence to show that the agent is still actively trading. The website is no longer active and contact by phone has been unsuccessful.
Whilst TPO does not have the powers to force Wilkins Residential to make payment of the awards, the complainants have been advised that the Ombudsman’s review may be used in support of any further legal action to recover monies owed.”
*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 three Government-approved redress schemes means Wilkins Residential 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.