Buyers, sellers, tenants and landlords in Tonbridge, Kent, are being warned that a local estate and letting agent, The Olive Branch Estate Limited (trading as The Olive Branch), has been expelled from The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme owing a tenant £1,400. This means that the agent can no longer legally trade until the outstanding award is paid, although appears to have ceased trading.
A tenant complained to The Property Ombudsman with issues regarding the condition of the property he let from the start of the tenancy, stating that it was cold, had not been cleaned as promised and there was a rat infestation. He also said the agent did not refund his security deposit or confirm that it had been registered with a deposit protection scheme. The tenant vacated the property after spending only one night there, but The Olive Branch refused to release him from the Tenancy Agreement or return the security deposit. The agent did not respond to the tenant’s complaint and so the tenant brought it to the attention of The Property Ombudsman.
The agent failed to provide TPO with its company file when requested, and upon investigation, the Ombudsman found that works that The Olive Branch said they would undertake prior to the commencement of the tenancy had not been carried out. The agent had also not responded to or addressed any of the issues raised by the tenant when he moved into the property.
With regard to the deposit, as the tenant entered into a Licence Agreement, rather than an Assured Shorthold Tenancy, there was no requirement for the deposit to be registered. However, the agent had acknowledged that the deposit was to be returned but had not actioned this. The Ombudsman made a £750 award of compensation for the shortcomings identified and also directed that The Olive Branch to return the tenant's deposit of £650, making a total payable by the agent of £1,400.
The Olive Branch failed to pay the award and The Ombudsman referred the agent to the scheme’s independent Compliance Committee, which ruled it should be expelled from The Property Ombudsman scheme.
The Olive Branch is not currently registered with a redress scheme, which is a requirement of every sales and letting agent in order to trade legally*. They also do no not appear to be a member of a Client Money Protection scheme, also a legal requirement and do not have any professional memberships. The Olive Branch has been referred to Trading Standards.
Gerry Fitzjohn, Non-Executive Director and Chairman of TPO’s Finance Committee: ““As a member of TPO, agents are obliged to comply with awards made by the Ombudsman, which The Olive Branch has failed to do. It appears that this agent is no longer trading, which is frustrating for the tenant who is owed outstanding monies.
We would like to remind consumers to ensure they always use an agent which is a member of a redress scheme (The Property Ombudsman or The Property Redress Scheme) and holds Client Money Protection**.”
*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 two Government-approved redress schemes (The Property Ombudsman and The Property Redress Scheme, means The Olive Branch 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.
**Full list of Client Money Protection schemes, is:
Money Shield, Client Money Protect safeagent Client Money Protection, Propertymark, RICS, UKALA Client Money Protection
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