The three government approved redress schemes; The Property Ombudsman (TPO), Ombudsman Services: Property and The Property Redress Scheme have today issued a revised version of their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
Established to support the ongoing communication between the three redress schemes where relevant, the MOU ensures that any agent with an outstanding award with one scheme will not be accepted by another until that award is settled.
If an agent is expelled from membership by a scheme due to a breach of its Terms of Business, the MOU will now allow for total transparency and the sharing of information with the press, property portals, The National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team (NTSEAT) as well as the expelled agents’ local Trading Standards office.
Property Ombudsman, Katrine Sporle, says: “Registering with an approved redress scheme is a legal requirement for both sales and letting agents in England. ‘Naming and shaming’ expelled agents that have not fulfilled their obligations and are not able to legally trade is in the public interest. The scheme responsible for expulsion will provide consumer protection by publicising the news via their website and other media outlets, and will inform regulators within the industry.”
Property Redress Scheme, Sean Hooker, says: “Agents should be fully aware that the consequences of not complying with the decisions of the redress schemes are severe, and that the close cooperation of the schemes will ensure that the consumer can be reassured that they are protected from poor industry practice.”
Ombudsman Services: Property, Lewis Shand Smith, says: “The joint announcement today and our strengthened Memorandum of Understanding should send out a clear signal to all agents that the redress schemes are working collaboratively to drive out poor practice in the industry. This is good news for tenants in the private rental sector who can be confident that our strong working partnership means we are acting together in the interest of all consumers to provide greater protection.”
Other revisions to the MOU relate to the transfer between schemes. These include:
- To clearly define the actions required if an agent makes an application to one scheme having previously been a member of another, but there are ongoing complaints.
- To identify who is responsible when a company changes redress schemes, but a complaint arises where issues occurred during membership with the previous redress scheme.
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Holly Addinall: 07979 537 334
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 free to all consumers. Agents pay a single annual subscription covering them for sales, lettings, commercial, international and auction activities. TPO does not charge case fees.
At 31 December 2016, over 15,315 sales offices and 14,613 letting offices were registered with TPO. We estimate that these figures represent 95% of sales agents and 85% of lettings agents operating within the UK.
Whilst TPO charges registered agents an annual subscription, the Ombudsman is accountable to the TPO Council which is chaired by a member of the House of Lords and with the majority of its members being independent from the industry. The Council appoints the Ombudsman and sets his Terms of Reference.
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 Disciplinary and Standards Committee, appointed by the Council, 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.
About The Property Redress Scheme
The Property Redress Scheme is one of three government authorised redress (ombudsman) schemes established to help resolve consumer complaints made against letting, property management and estate agents and other property professionals. Currently the choice over 6,000 property agents, the PRS aims to raise standards and give consumer confidence in the property industry.
The PRS operates by providing consumers with an escalated complaints procedure against unfair treatment by property professionals, such as surprise charges, misrepresentation or unacceptable service. The PRS is administered by HF Resolution Ltd, part of the Hamilton Fraser group, and is governed by an Independent Advisory Council consisting of experienced representatives from all areas of the property industry.
About Ombudsman Services: Property
Approved by Powys County Council as an estate agents redress scheme and by the Chartered Institute of Trading Standards Ombudsman Services: Property resolve consumer complaints about property firms that have signed up to their service. These include:
• chartered surveyors that are members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
• residential managing agents, including those that are members of the Association of Residential Managing Agents (ARMA)
• residential letting agents, including those that are members of the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS) or the UK Association of Letting Agents (UKALA)
• other property professionals
Ombudsman Services: Property decisions are binding on the firm and enforceable in court. It can require: a range of remedies and financial awards up to £25,000. In 2016 Ombudsman Services: Property helped over 5,600 complainants and resolved 1,166 cases.
For more information visit www.ombudsman-services.org.