- 39,285 people provided with advice and guidance in 2020 (up 29% on 2019)
- Online portal played significant role, helping nearly half of all consumers contacting TPO (17,359)
- 5,707 disputes resolved (up 12% on 2019)
- £1.9 million in awards
- 99% compliance with Ombudsman decisions
Despite understandably lower enquiry levels in the first half of the year due to the pandemic, The Property Ombudsman’s (TPO) 2020 annual report reveals a significant uplift in the last two quarters as everyone seemingly settled into a ‘new normal’.
Even though the sector experienced variability throughout 2020, TPO helped a record 39,285 people through its various enquiry and advice channels, up 29% on 2019. TPO’s self-service portal played a significant role helping 17,359 people alone, nearly half of all initial contact to TPO.
Over 34,000 people received assistance through effective advice, guidance and signposting, with a further 5,122 people requiring TPO’s specialist help through its ombudsman service to resolve their complaints. Whilst this was a rise of only 0.3% on cases accepted for resolution, as the bulk of enquiries were in the latter part of the year, this meant an even busier start to 2021.
The number of cases resolved by TPO grew by 12%, reflecting an increase in complex casework (4,181 cases). Of these, 2,907 cases were supported by the Ombudsman and 2,473 financial awards were made totalling £1.9 million, down 13% on 2019.
TPO dealt with 2,737 complaints relating to lettings, 1,656 relating to sales, 1,194 for residential leasehold management (RLM) and 120 for other property professionals. The biggest awards were £20,838 (lettings), £24,139 (sales) and £10,642 (RLM), and the average awards were £612, £653 and £339 respectively.
Once again, the top causes of complaints being referred to TPO were management for lettings and communication and record keeping for sales, with complaints handling as the top cause for RLM disputes being referred to TPO.
TPO recorded a 99% compliance rate with awards in 2020, with just 40 referrals made to TPO’s Compliance Committee, 34% fewer than in 2019. Despite members totalling 40,097, only 19 agents were excluded for non-payment of awards.
- 69% of complaints were supported by the Ombudsman
- 55% of complaints were received from landlords, while 43% came from tenants
- The top causes of complaints were: (1) management, (2) communication and record keeping, (3) instructions and terms of business, (4) complaints handling
- 65% of complaints were supported by the Ombudsman
- 68% of complaints were received from sellers, while 30% came from buyers
- The top causes of complaints were: (1) communication & record keeping, (2) instructions/terms of business/commission/termination, (3) marketing & advertising, (4) complaints handling
Residential leasehold management overview:
- 40% of complaints were supported by the Ombudsman, reflecting the degree of uncertainty shown by leaseholders regarding the respective responsibilities of managing agents and their landlord clients
- 80% of complaints were received from leaseholders, with freeholders, resident associations, resident management companies and right to manage companies amongst the remaining 20%
- The top causes of leasehold complaints were: (1) complaints handling, (2) communication, (3) demand/collection service in relation to service changes, (4) maintenance and major works
Rebecca Marsh, Property Ombudsman:
“2020 was a year like no other for all businesses and everyone had to quickly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. TPO effectively transitioned from an office-based service to a remote working operation with no loss of service. I’m extremely proud of the whole team who performed well whilst rising to the challenge of global events.
Our customer services team responded to another record volume of consumer enquiries with an ever-increasing number of people opting to contact us via TPO’s complaints portal, launched in February 2020. The pandemic is not over yet, so it will be interesting to see if this trend continues or adjusts as we slowly get back to normal.
TPO helped over 34,000 enquiries that did not need to go on to become accepted cases by signposting them to organisations that could help, or giving advice and guidance to promote a local resolution between them and the agent. Providing a front-end enquiry service is one of the unique functions of an ombudsman. Its importance in helping consumers in such a complicated sector, whether or not their issues fall within TPO’s remit, should not be understated, as often straightforward guidance and advice can help stop disputes from arising in the first instance.
Enquiry levels in 2021 are already showing further year-on-year increases and we are expecting this to continue as the impact of the pandemic on peoples’ relationships with their homes continues to play out.”
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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) 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 2020, registered members of TPO comprised 15,159 sales members, 13,587 letting members, 1,509 RLM members, and 9,842 under Other Jurisdictions.
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. However, registered agents 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 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