Following the legal victories of two tenants who have both won out-of-court settlements against "No DSS" letting agents, The Property Ombudsman (TPO) has issued a reminder to its member agents of their obligations not to discriminate. TPO has also confirmed it will consider obtaining Assured Advice and strengthening its Codes of Practice in the next update to clearly prohibit ‘No DSS’ clauses in rental advertisements.
Amanda Staples and Emma Loffler both won out-of-court settlements against "No DSS" letting agents on the grounds of indirect discrimination. Under clause 1e and 1f of The Property Ombudsman’s Code of Practice for Residential Letting Agents, agents are reminded that they must:
1e treat consumers equally regardless of their race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender recognition, disability, pregnancy or maternity, or nationality. Unlawful discrimination includes giving less favourable treatment because someone is perceived to have one of these personal characteristics or because they are associated with a person with such a characteristic.
1f take special care when dealing with consumers who might be disadvantaged because of factors such as their age, infirmity, lack of knowledge, lack of linguistic or numeracy ability, economic circumstances, bereavement or do not speak English as a first language.
In 2019, TPO handled 881 complaints in relation to agent’s general obligations, specifically relating to 1e and 1f of the Codes of Practice for Residential Letting Agents. Whilst TPO recognises these are not all linked to “No DSS” cases, the figure still highlights that approximately 17% of all complaints last year were linked to some form of discrimination. For the avoidance of doubt, economic circumstances include tenants who are in receipt of benefits.
Setting out TPO’s stance on the issue, Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman, states:
“Whilst rental properties are investments for landlords, they are homes for tenants. To be excluded from a significant portion of the homes available simply because you are in receipt of Housing Benefits cannot be considered as treating consumers equally. Tenants’ perceptions that they have been unfairly discriminated against underpin the significant number of the complaints received. TPO agrees that adverts which discriminate against would-be tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit should end. Making sure no one is excluded from applying for the home of their choice will go some way to reducing these complaints."
TPO is aware of certain circumstances in which mortgage lenders / insurance providers specifically exclude tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit. If this is the case, TPO would expect agents to evidence that and an explanation given to prospective tenants on an individual basis.
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