WYL Ltd, a Yorkshire sales and lettings estate agency, has been expelled from membership of The Property Ombudsman scheme due to a failure to pay the Ombudsman's award and other breaches of the Code of Practice.
WYL Ltd, of 1 Russell Street, Keighley, BD21 2JU, had committed serious breaches of the TPO Lettings Code of Practice and failed to pay an award of £3,450 made against it by the Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer.
The Ombudsman found that the firm had:
- failed to provide its terms of business to the landlord or get him to sign a copy;
- failed to lodge a tenant's deposit with a recognised protection scheme;
- failed to inform the landlord of offers received so that he found out from a third party that a tenancy had been agreed at a reduced rent;
- failed to supply quotations of estimates for work despite requests to do so;
- failed to provide evidence that the works had been arranged or the money paid out to a legitimate contractor.
WYL, as a member of TPO, had an obligation to pay the award but refused to do so claiming that as a small business it could not afford it. The agency had also argued that repair work had been completed satisfactorily and had been 'approved' by a friend of the complainant. The Ombudsman could find no evidence to prove that was the case.
Mr Hamer reported WYL to the TPO Disciplinary and Standards Committee (DSC). As the agent had failed to pay the award and had breached other aspects of the TPO Code of Practice, the committee decided to expel it from membership.
WYL did appeal against the DSC's decision on the basis that, in the case under consideration, an employee subsequently dismissed from the firm was responsible for the breaches of the Code. The appeal, at which WYL chose not to be present, was heard by an Appeal Committee made up of independent members of the TPO Council not involved in the DSC decision. The appeal was dismissed as WYL had earlier made this claim to the Ombudsman and the evidence showed the proprietor of WYL had himself been involved with this case. There is also the broader point that an employer has to take responsibility for the conduct of employees.
Gerry Fitzjohn, deputy chairman of the TPO Board, said it was regrettable WYL had ignored the Ombudsman's ruling.
'WYL was registered with TPO for its sales and lettings activities. Whilst we can expel the agent for its lettings business it is a peculiarity of the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act that we have to keep the firm registered with us for its sales activity. That Act requires sales agents to join an approved redress scheme and expelling WYL from the sales jurisdiction would have the effect of banning the firm from the industry, which can only be done by the Office of Fair Trading.
'We are making the OFT and local trading standards officers aware of this decision.
'We also noted that the agent had not provided proof that client money was being held in a separate account as required by the TPO Code of Practice. This presents potentially a very serious risk to those customers of that agent, particularly when this firm has already defaulted on an award made against it and has said it is too small to be able to afford recompense independently awarded to its customers.
'That should serve as a warning over potential future problems, which is why we are alerting the public about this estate agency.'